Why has the long forecasted M2M market not reached its potential? The commercial opportunity is substantial - an order of magnitude greater than that of cellular technologies, with tens of billions of devices, and a market projected to be potentially worth more than a trillion dollars by 2020.

One of the most important factors behind the slow and uncertain implementation of M2M services is cost, and we will examine costs here.

Cost divides into two main categories. The first of these is the hardware cost – the cost of the equipment needed to establish and operate a network, and then there is the contractual ongoing cost paid to the network operator for the transfer of data.

The Weightless standard has been designed from the outset to minimize both of these costs.

The benefit of license-free spectrum

Hardware costs are influenced by a number of factors. One of the most significant is the cost of the network, and this itself has a number of elements. The first of these is obtaining suitable spectrum. Conventionally, M2M solutions have been developed around legacy telephony based technologies - 2G/3G/LTE. Not only are these technologies not optimal for most M2M applications but spectrum costs have been high – for example the cost of spectrum for a UK-wide cellular network would be $1-2billion. Then the cost of deploying a network, with base station and terminal costs, would add more than $2billion. The influence of high spectrum costs has been clearly demonstrated with the 3G auctions, and now with the 4G auctions that are taking place around the world. With expenditure at that level, network fees inevitably have to be high if the operator’s investment is to be recouped, and a profit made.

A fundamental advantage of using white space spectrum is that it is license free. There is no fee, no multi-billion dollar investment needed. Just like the Wi-Fi spectrum, it can be used free of charge. However, and unlike Wi-Fi, white space coverage is ubiquitous, and not just made up of discrete cells of connectivity.

Longer range, fewer base stations

Range is another element that has a strong influence on the cost of network deployment. Long range is critical, and Weightless builds on the already excellent range achievable within the white space band with several techniques that extend this further. As a result, a Weightless network will typically need around one third as many base stations as a traditional cellular network.

Therefore the cost of base stations is approximately one third of the cost of a cellular network, the spectrum is free and as a result the cost of deploying a Weightless network is much lower than the cost of deploying an equivalent traditional cellular network.

Lower network costs mean lower tariffs

The steps that have been taken to reduce network installation costs mean that an operator can levy a much lower tariff to each user of the network. Weightless devices have been designed so that they do not send much data, and do not greatly load the network. Sensor-style devices may only wake up once every 15 minutes, or even less frequently. This will allow a tariff that charges only a small amount for when a device is communicating, and nothing at all when it is not, because the loading it places on the network is very small. This will make it possible to achieve the sub- $10/year subscription fees needed to meet M2M systems requirements, rather than the $20/month typical of cellular networks.

Appropriate chip characteristics

Where hardware costs are concerned, the Weightless specification has been created in such a way that it can be implemented on a chip that operates for up to 10 years on one primary cell and costs $1-2 when produced in the quantities forecast for the M2M market. Creating a module around the chip will require just a battery and a small antenna, and completed modules should enter the market for $5 or much less. Chip/module costs are therefore in the ‘design in and forget’ category needed to ensure widespread acceptance.

Suitable for purpose

Weightless is designed from the start to minimize the cost of both the hardware and the ongoing service and specifically for machine communications within white space spectrum. The cost of deploying a Weightless network for M2M communication will be well below that which any existing network technology is able to achieve.

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