How’s this for cool? T-Mobile is connecting ice machines

bagged ice

T-Mobile will soon have nearly 1 million new wireless connections on its network, but they won’t be smartphones.  T-Mobile is linking its 2G network to hundreds of thousands of ice machines – that’s right, I’m talking about those refrigerated boxes outside of grocery stores and gas stations containing bagged ice.

Raco Wireless, T-Mobile’s machine-to-machine communications outsourcer, is working with an ice machine vendor to connect hundreds of thousands of these machines across the country, Raco President John Horn told me at the Connected World conference this week. He wouldn’t reveal the company, nor the timing. Horn would only say that the whole business of selling bagged ice in this country is about to significantly change.

Why on earth would you connect a bagged-ice machine? It’s the ideal use case for an M2M app, Horn said. The boxes can alert ice vendors when they start running low on inventory. They can send out a warning if the temperature of the machine rises above freezing or the refrigeration assembly appears to be malfunctioning, allowing the company to dispatch a repairman before the machine’s contents turn to slush. Horn said Raco is even working with the vendor to install remote payment terminals so customers can buy their ice on the spot and outside of business hours.

“It’s one simple new solution,” Horn said. “But with it your changing the entire user experience around buying a bag of ice.”

I’ve always enjoyed interviewing Horn, who headed up T-Mobile’s M2M business before he went to Raco, where he’s now basically handling the lion’s share of T-Mobile’s M2M business. Horn just loves to talk about all of the crazy uses toward which M2M technology is being put. In previous conversations we have discussed how wireless networks are linking farm equipment, greenhouses, children’s watches, and even cops.

In the last case, the police officers themselves aren’t chipped, rather key equipment they use. For instance M2M modules, coupled with accelerometers, can alert dispatch when the officer’s gun is unholstered or if when the officer is running and abruptly comes to a sudden stop – neither of which is ever a good good sign.

T-Mobile is trying to overcome the perception that that’s it M2M business is dying as it shuts down large portions of its 2G network, which hosts 90 percent of its M2M connections. Instead of losing business, T-Mobile and Raco have actually gained it, Horn said. In addition to its current ice machine project, Raco and T-Mobile just won a key deal with Apriva Wireless to power point-of-sale transactions in wireless payment terminals.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Steve Heap

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