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M2M communication: Enduring extreme conditions

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:machine-to-machine? smartphone? SIM?

Mobile phone users are generally not at the North Pole, in a sandstorm, or under water. Mobile devices that facilitate machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, on the other hand, often need to function in extreme conditions: on oil pipelines and platforms; in refrigerated trucks; on freighter ships. Even in extremes of heat, cold, or humidity, these devices must be failsafe on a long-term basis and transmit data without interruption.

Mobile M2M communication offers developers a basis for countless new applications for all manner of industries. Approximately 81 million machines are already connected in wireless networks globally, but that is only the beginning when considering the rapid growth that market researchers forecast for the M2M market. According to market analysts at Berg Insight, the number of communicating machines is set to rise to around 270 million by 2015.

The booming M2M market is due to unlimited uses for M2M communications, including vehicles in a car-sharing pool relaying their location, mileage, and fuel level; freight cars that send their position autonomously to a tracking service and vehicles that warn of dangers ahead and automatically call out the emergency services if an accident occurs. The more areas of life and work that rely on M2M, the more important fail-safe and reliable data transmission becomes.

Operability in all conditions
A typical smartphone is designed for use in temperatures between -10C and +40C (14F to 104F). But in humidity, dust, or dirt, most devices quickly cease to function. Extreme M2M solutions must withstand much more. For example, the automotive industry demands more rugged requirements for automatic emergency call systems. These are based on fixed M2M solutions installed in vehicles, which must be resistant to both extreme fluctuations in temperature, shocks or severe changes in speed. The device must not fail in the event of an accident and should be able to make an emergency call automatically.

Many designs, one function: the SIM card
The core of every wireless M2M solution is a subscriber identity module (SIM) card. The SIM handles network allocation and authentication and is the switchboard for security and access control in connecting to the mobile network. While the other electronic components of an M2M solution can be made suitably robust, the contact between the chip card and the circuit board electronics is the real challenge in extreme conditions.

Different SIM designs are used in industry, but the classic design is the 2FF SIM, or plug-in SIM card. With its dimensions of 2.5 cm by 1.5 cm it is especially popular in the M2M sector, while the micro SIM, which at 1.5 cm by 1.2 cm edge length is even more compact for use in M2M applications. The micro SIM, also known as the 3FF SIM, is the most common type of SIM used in smartphones.

The two plug-in SIMs have a major advantage in that they can be fitted simply and swiftly into M2M applications of all kinds and are ideally suited for use in conventional conditions. Plug-in SIMs also enable low-cost production of M2M solutions that are required in small numbers and are suitable for limited use in extreme conditions. In both, the transitions between the SIM contact surfaces and the contact springs of the rest of the electronics are seen as potential sources of faults.

The MFF SIM: A tough customer
Shocks, humidity and corrosion can interrupt contact between the circuit board and the SIM card, impairing an M2M application's failure safety. Carriers who design rugged devices for mobile M2M use special M2M SIM chips, known as MFF SIMs, in their M2M solutions. Depending on the type used, these SIMs are impervious to temperatures of -40C to over 100C (-40F to 212F).

Furthermore, MFF SIMs are smaller than plug-in SIMs and can be inserted by pick and place in automated production lines. In this way, robust and compact M2M solutions can be manufactured in bulk. An MFF SIM with its corrosion-resistant contacts is permanently integrated into the M2M electronics C in other words, soldered onto the circuit board. This makes it more robust and longer lasting than solutions that use plug-in SIMs C even in terms of write and erase cycles. The SIM memory is accessed during each and every network authentication process and ages accordingly. MFF SIMs are designed for up to 500,000 accesses, or five times as many as plug-in SIMs, and their permanent integration into the electronics provides protection from manipulation and theft.

As new innovations in ruggedized SIM chips make reliable M2M communications possible in extreme conditions, expect to see more development of applications to make automation more common. Automated processes in extreme locations will mean a safer experience for human users, along with greater efficiencies and cost savings.

About the author
Jrgen Hase, Vice President M2M Competence Center, Deutsche Telekom AG, joined Deutsche Telekom AG in 2011 to head the M2M Competence Center. Within Deutsche Telekom, he is responsible for the international M2M business. Jrgen has worked more than 20 years in the telecommunications industry and in the M2M sector. He is also Chairman of the M2M alliance.

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