Archive for April, 2011

M2M: Dumb Modem or Intelligent Device?

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Integrated M2M

Choosing the wireless module for a machine-to-machine (M2M) project is a critical part of the design process with competing trade-offs: technology, cost, familiarity, and certification to name a few. Another increasingly important factor involves selecting between a “dumb modem” and an “intelligent device.”

Traditionally, M2M communication devices consisted of two components: a host processor and a modem. The host processor executes the application software while the modem handles the communications. In a small cellular system, the host might be an 8-bit micro-controller coupled with a “dumb”  modem from Sierra Wireless, Telit, CINTERION, etc. Together, they would communicate using AT commands over a serial port.

Over time, the modem vendors sought to differentiate themselves, expanding their products and bringing more value to the table. Today, most have a number of digital inputs and outputs, analog inputs, memory, flash and various peripherals. Many also include a programming language and APIs so you can develop your application directly on the module — transforming it from a “dumb modem” to an “intelligent device.”

By eliminating the host processor and support peripherals, the design can be simplified. A simpler design usually means lower costs — less engineering time, faster time to market and shorter BOM. The software design may be easier too, since the need to communicate via AT commands over a serial port disappears.

Product managers and engineers point out that an integrated approach will “lock-in” the module vendor making it  difficult to replace the module with another vendor’s offering. Even selecting a new technology from the same vendor can cause problems. For example, a GSM and CDMA module may be pin-compatible but lack firmware making them software compatible. Manufactures face component end-of-life all the time and manage the life-cycle of their design. M2M vendors understand the long-term nature of M2M products and work diligently to provide long-term availability and compatibility.

At Llamawerx, we’ve helped clients navigate these decisions before in diverse industries like security, vehicle tracking and monitoring. By successfully building and deploying thousands of units based on Sierra Wireless’ Open AT technology, we’ve proven the integrated approach works.

To learn more about specific technologies in the Llamawerx tool chest, visit or contact us at