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

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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

7 Responses to “How’s this for cool? T-Mobile is connecting ice machines”

  1. Michelle Barry

    Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile, is investing significant resources in the future of M2M technology. The company believes that the mobile M2M industry is where the next big wave of technology will come from. Two weeks ago, DT launched an all new M2M marketplace and partnership platform, an online, social media-style portal where all M2M stakeholders can make connections, buy and sell services, and even build virtual collaboration rooms with other developers.

  2. Ron Larson

    Aren’t traffic signals now using this technology? I thought I read where thieves are stealing the SIM cards out of traffic signals and re purposing them for the black market phones.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hey Ron,

      That would be an interesting crime spree. It seems a big red flag would go up the first time someone made a phone call with a SIM provisioned for data or SMS only, but who knows? Maybe the operators haven’t put in the safeguards to immediately detect that kind of thing. Talk about bill shock for City Hall. :)

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Sorry, I don’t follow Lindsworth.

      What does this have to do with NFC and how customers are using 3G and LTE networks? Are you saying that 2G networks are going the way of the dodo? You’d be right, but it will take an awful long time. Most operators will keep some portion of the 2G networks up for a very long time because of the M2M cash cow. But to your point, AT&T did just shut down GSM at PCS in NYC. Odd move.

      • christa

        I totally agree with kevin,
        completely wiping out 2G networks in itself is not an appropriate option for operators. 3G might be coming up with high data speed, but we cannot deny the “range” feature of 2G network system.
        We all know 3G have short range signals, which serves in an area much lesser than a 2G carrier.
        Operators cannot just switch to 3G to provide high speed data as the main concern of mobile telephony is to have high uptime of network for voice calling. With 3G networks high signal range can never received unless there must be some advanced system of carrier modulation and at mobile station side, some advanced Mobile software development to receive the 3G carriers from a distant range.

  3. christa

    Never heard or imagined of integrating mobile technology with ice bags. Sounds quite an interesting concept but aren’t there another alert systems present to inform about the malfunctioning of unit.
    I also want to ask, will there be any mobile software development specifically developed to work for such conditions?