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M2M functionalities are increasingly important factors for machines and system installations

M2M functionalities are increasingly important factors for machines and system installations Due to growing demands for  productivity, flexibility and safety, customised configurable x86 systems, which are already available as application-ready platforms, are being increasingly recommended for M2M systems, says Claus Giebert of Kontron.

In earlier years, M2M or telematics was a matter of quite small data volumes, which were simply sent in one direction. These days by using M2M, distinctly complex applications can also be implemented both bi-directionally and with uninterrupted connection times. However, several changes were needed to achieve this: firstly the complete performance of the network had to be upgraded. Originally GSM still only delivered a data transfer rate of just 9600 bit/s at V.110, whereas today we have UMTS frequency bands of up to 7.2Mbit/s on HSDPA. With LTE, download capacities of up to 100 MB per second are even possible. In addition to this, tariffs have had to be made available via which these bandwidths can also be used 24 hours a day in order to be able to provide a permanent online connection.

Accordingly, today there is hardly any limit in the productivity, range and ontime for M2M applications. Nowadays, access can be created without major expenditure to any appliance, any machine and any system installation at any time whenever this is desired. With the increasing performance capability of the networks, new fields of application are being added one after the other. For instance, remote access has become capable of being implemented into complex systems such as, for example, fire alarm installations in buildings, unmanned sewage treatment plants or dams. These days, even multi-media applications such as the streaming of videos from surveillance cameras are possible.

The bandwidth is increasing in line with the connection times. Solutions have now become affordable for more or less every application from what was at one time an exceptional application with comparably high costs and minimal ontime. By connecting-up radio building elements the network connection can become even more rapidly a standard feature of large numbers of electronic appliances, without the end-user even having to pay separately for this connectivity in the future. However, not every electronic device will immediately receive direct access to the unprotected network. In many cases, the process will be in complex environments with access gateways as the nodal point. Thus there are decentralised automation cells, which are protected by a firewall against unauthorised access and authorised access via VPN tunnelling.

But when using such M2M gateways, not only are functions of standard routers required, but often also further functions which can be very OEM-specific - for example, the operation of a company's in-house antivirus software, the use of the gateways also as a local server, the data aggregation and the web server functionality for the remote access to the underlying applications. Not to be forgotten, too, are the user administration and the logging and reporting of M2M processes. If one wants to individually combine such solutions, the question then arises as to which is the best platform on which to implement this. For example switching and routing processors are available on the market and as they start to be used in carrier grade telecommunications, these provide high data throughput rates for backbones and have an ecosystem, which is precisely tailored to these particular applications. These can then, in fact, also very rapidly implement deep packet inspections; however, further functions which do not precisely match this scenario are quite expensive to install.

Furthermore, there are M2M implementations, which have been installed with comparatively poorly performing microcontrollers, which are limited in terms of their flexibility and are lacking the requisite performance for most OEM applications in the industrial environment. On the other hand, low-power processors from the x86 family such as the Intel Atom processors provide a good platform with greater flexibility and an extremely comprehensive ecosystem. Everything that one needs for the construction of M2M gateways on the basis of this technology is readily available in standard form on the market. Thus OEMs can start immediately with the development of the OEM gateway for M2M communications, provided that they have matched and integrated the individual components with each other.

Leading industrial computing companies help OEMs to minimise expenditure by offering pre-integrated machine-to-machine solutions. Kontron for example offers the (M2M) Developer Kit  and the M2M system optimised for the extended temperature range of from -40 up to +85°C. With an Intel Atom processor, these systems offer flexible communications possibilities via mobile phone networks, LAN, WLAN (802.11a/b/g/n) and WPAN (802.15.4), and can also be flexibly adapted for connection to local peripherals. This flexibility is possible thanks to the modular construction of the inner workings.

For example, a direct camera connection for video monitoring can be implemented by the USB and Ethernet interfaces on the carrier board. In addition, the integrated x86 processor exercises its full potential in these scenarios as it can also take over the pre-processing and compression of image and video data to keep the volume costs for the mobile telephony data transmission as low as possible. Alongside this, industrial Ethernet protocols for Profinet or Fieldbus can be very flexibly produced in customer-specific projects for example by FPGA implementations. In addition, all of the license management for the OEM-specified pre-integrated software, such as OS and anti-virus solutions as well as Linux-based ISDN, DSL and Ethernet routers is taken over. When customers get all of this from a single source, they will be relieved of all of the administrative expenditure and can concentrate on the application development work.
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