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U.S. M2M Infrastructure Opportunities


Snaps #43

Forecasts of vast quantities of connected M2M devices, projected for 2015 or 2020, abound.  Some of these devices will be part of solutions in large addressable application markets, some of which are very fragmented and underserved today but offering large potential future opportunities.

One example of many is infrastructure – specifically transportation infrastructure.  Transportation infrastructure and its health, maintenance, funding, and efficiency vary dramatically by region and country. Needless to say, no modern country can function well without an effective transportation infrastructure.

Despite having the world’s largest economy, the U.S. is ranked 23rd for overall transportation infrastructure quality by the World Economic Forum, between Spain and Chile. This has many causes, most of them political, as funding for new and existing infrastructure and its maintenance is inextricably intertwined with political processes, at all levels of government.  2011 is not a particularly good or easy moment for increasing funding, either, while present funding methods are inadequate, generating decreasing revenue even as costs continue to rise.

Trains and aviation are part of this picture, but M2M opportunities for highway and bridge maintenance alone are rife in a country where automobiles prevail. In 2008 the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission estimated that $255 billion was needed per year in transport spending over the next 50 years to keep the U.S. road system in repair.  Current spending, per The Economist, falls 60% short of that.

U.S. infrastructure includes about 617,000 bridges, of which over 160,000 were rated as “structurally insufficient” in 2002.  In Minneapolis in 2007 an eight-lane bridge carrying Interstate 35W across the Mississippi River collapsed during the evening rush hour; 13 people were killed and 145 injured. This resulted in a great level of attention being focused on decaying infrastructure, attention that gradually subsided. Although it might not have happened had the bridge been monitored using M2M technologies, four years later M2M bridge and structure monitoring is still a tiny, fragmented industry featuring small companies and proprietary technologies.

Aside from saving lives and eliminating the costs and problems associated with waiting for such events to happen, monitoring could also greatly reduce the overall cost of maintenance, period, during a time when no one knows how this will be funded or even if it can be funded.

Companies that monitor bridges and structures are reminiscent of early M2M solutions providers – small, very specialized, and providing a mixture of hardware and services. One of our examples below is a small unit of a much larger company.

LifeSpan Technologies

LifeSpan, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, provides bridge monitoring solutions within the larger area of asset monitoring.  LifeSpan’s data center, to which its systems connect, makes it a specialized M2M solution provider, with on-going monitoring services. It’s not clear from its website how systems communicate with its data center but this appears to be agnostic – whatever a customer prefers.

Smart Structures

Located in Rantoul, Illinois, Smart Structures lists over twenty bridges monitored in Japan, China, and the U.S. on its website.  It provides design and engineering services and sells bridge monitoring hardware such as sensors and gauges, associated software,  and systems (these systems are also known as structural health monitoring systems).  Note that communications are via RF, not cellular, while monitoring is done by customers; Smart Structures doesn’t offer on-going monitoring services.  

Smart Structures’ solutions for addressing the challenges of bridge maintenance are encapsulated by its SensiToll concept, which combines monitoring with a toll system that, theoretically, would enable bridge operators to acquire revenues for maintenance from drivers.

Physical Acoustics Corporation (PAC)

PAC is a member of the MISTRAS Group Inc. headquartered in Princeton Junction, NJ – having a large parent company behind it is a differentiator. PAC designs and manufactures acoustic emission sensors and instruments suitable for bridge and structural monitoring.  

PAC, with MISTRAS, has an international presence for its bridge and structural monitoring equipment and solutions; MISTRAS provides a wide range of products and services for many industries, all relating to the structural integrity of infrastructure – bridge monitoring is but one small area of many. MISTRAS’ solutions include active 24/7 monitoring services.

A Large Opportunity

It’s plain that a very large M2M opportunity exists in bridge monitoring in the U.S. alone – a combination of standardized hardware and a suitable platform or platforms could save governments large sums, reducing the overall amounts needed for maintenance. The present state of a fragmented market with tiny, specialized players is typical of an undeveloped market; the addressable U.S. bridge  monitoring market is more than large enough to support larger companies offering significant cost advantages. The primary challenge is effectively coping with local, state, and federal bureaucracies and the political complexities of doing business with multiple layers of government.  Even so, if bridges – along with other components of transportation infrastructure -- are not maintained, catastrophe beckons.

Bill Ingle
Beecham Research, Ltd.

Beecham Research M2M Service Enablement Services (SES) Report – Now Available

Following completion of Beecham Research’s second major study of M2M SE Services, the report from this study is now available.  This report covers all areas of M2M Service Enablement, including Service Delivery Platforms (SDP), Application Development and much more. Coverage includes sections on:  Service Definitions – with over 110 service elements in 20 Service Groups identified; Results from an international survey of SE adopters; Interviews with industry experts and leading market players; 7 key vertical sectors examined;  Forecast of service revenues; Competitive landscape and assessment of market players; Build versus Buy; and Route to Market issues.  Click here for more details.

Beecham Research M2M Blog at m2mapps

Recent posts:

Dec. 20, 2011:  SensorLogic Reborn

Dec. 11, 2011:  Ericsson withdraws from cellular modules

Dec. 02, 2011:  The M2M market in turbulent economic times


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