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Why Wireless M2M Applications Don't Need 3G

Wireless cellular network M2M (Machine-to-Machine) module shipments approached 28 million in 2009, and according to the latest market study by ABI Research, they will quadruple to exceed 114 million in 2015.

The M2M category is a market showing strong growth for both mobile service providers and wireless systems vendors, but not all segments of it are benefiting equally.

"Not so long ago, it appeared likely that M2M would be making liberal use of the EDGE cellular air interface standard," says ABI practice director Sam Lucero. "However, market data suggests that EDGE has not become the technology of choice for many M2M vendors."

EDGE is in some ways a logical option for M2M applications. A 2.5G technology, it operates in the same frequency bands as the GSM/GPRS wireless standard, but with greater spectral efficiency and lower cost.

Since many M2M use cases don't require 3G speeds and bandwidth and not all carriers have 3G spectrum licenses, EDGE would seem a useful upgrade path from GSM/GPRS.

But, says Lucero, "Module shipment data since 2003 shows no significant adoption of EDGE in the M2M market. After many years of only nominal shipments, ABI Research must now conclude that EDGE will likely never gain traction in the future."

Application developers are largely either staying with the GSM/GPRS standard where bandwidth or future-proofing are not prime considerations, or are shifting directly to WCDMA in cases where they are.

Why this lack of enthusiasm? Developers have proven to be extremely cost-sensitive, opting to forgo even the minimal extra expense of EDGE technology if they can live with GSM/GPRS.

Also, concern about future-proofing appears to be growing. Despite EDGE's immediate benefits, it does not address fundamental anxieties about GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks being turned-off in favor of 3G/4G at some point within the deployed life-span of M2M applications.

This doesn't mean that EDGE is never used. It has seen uptake in commercial telematics and consumer OEM telematics, as well as fixed wireless terminals and industrial PDAs.

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