A consortium of ICT standards development bodies has set up a new global organisation to ensure the efficient deployment of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications systems.

M2M is the technology behind the Internet of Things that could enable smart cities of the future. It allows electronic devices to communicate with one another via SIM cards that can connect to wireless sensors and the mobile internet for management and monitoring, and to provide services.

The number of worldwide M2M connections is growing exponentially, with some forecasts as high as 50 billion by 2020. These connections are expected to reside within virtually every major market category – from healthcare to transportation and energy to agriculture.

The specifications developed by oneM2M will provide a common M2M service layer that can be embedded within various hardware and software, and connect the myriad of devices in the field, according to the consortium.

The organisation will also develop global end-to-end specifications for M2M, with the aim of lowering costs, shortening time-to-market, creating economies of scale, simplifying the development of applications, and avoiding standardisation overlap.

The consortium is made up of seven standards development bodies, including ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, ETSI, TIA, TTA, and TTC. All of these organisations are working to develop technical specifications and reports to ensure M2M devices can successfully communicate on a global scale.

Commenting on the news, Andrew Brown, director for enterprise research at Strategy Analytics, said the lack of standards in M2M has been repeatedly flagged as a key barrier to the development of the M2M market.

“There is clearly a benefit to developing a framework of agreed global standards that will benefit end-users, equipment providers, service providers, standard development organisations and others,” said Brown in a blog post.

“In theory it will help develop a set of standards that will allow devices to communicate with middleware across multiple geographies and industries, from the smart grid and smart home, to vehicles and healthcare.”

However, he added that there are a number of challenges that need to be overcome before a common service layer can be established.

For example, different vertical industries have different requirements and standards, so one service layer will not work equally across all industry sectors. Applications are also built and developed according to different industry protocols and specifications, so harmonising standards means getting agreement within the industries themselves.

Moreover, regulation is at different stages across different regions, and standards bodies cannot dictate the policies of different governments across different markets. The question of financing is also likely to throw up disagreements between different standards bodies.

“Aligning the various elements in the M2M service layer will require time and focus, and will happen on an industry-by-industry basis, with all the challenges that involves,” said Brown.