IoT Standards Needed

While everything will be connected to the Internet, there will be communication gaps between devices. How to bridge those gaps isn’t so clear.

popularity

The promise of the Internet of Things is effortless communication between devices, all of which are smart enough to transmit data to the Internet directly, or through connecting hubs, and to ad hoc devices that are authorized to be added to a personal or industrial network. What’s not yet clear is how that promise will be realized.

Even though many devices are designed to work with a home network now, they don’t always go together as planned. Rouz Jazayiri, chief of staff at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, said he routinely brings home devices to try them out—a necessity for understanding where more dollars should be invested.

“The biggest issue is interoperability,” said Jazayiri, who noted that competing environments from Google, Apple and Samsung could create big problem in the short term. “Longer term, there will be problems with communications, security and messaging.”

But he predicts that once those issues are solved—and market forces will dictate that they do get solved—marketplaces will emerge to drive massive growth in this sector.

Numbers differ dramatically about just how large this market will become, but almost everyone agrees it will be a very large number of devices. “We’re talking about billions of IoT devices communicating with each other and the cloud,” said Pete Hutton, executive vice president at Arm. “This will create massive amounts of data and change the face of enterprise networking and servers.”

Thinking differently about connectivity
But how, exactly, will they all communicate with each other? Edward Lee, professor at the University of California at Berkeley, insists that the first step isn’t necessarily more standards, but a willingness to “embrace heterogeneity.”

“The Internet of Things, by nature, is a heterogeneous technology,” Lee said. UC Berkeley is working on a concept known as “accessor,” which uses host devices to instantiate proxies. “The Web provides different services across a wide variety of back ends. The browser provides a platform and runs in a local device. The accessor takes a similar approach to use hosts to instantiate a proxy. So if you have an 802.15.4 (a IEEE standard that specifies the physical layer and media access control for low-rate personal area networks) temperature sensor using CoAP (constrained application protocol) through a gateway, CoAP doesn’t specify the protocol. With an accessor, it just provides a proxy to the device.”

UC Berkeley also is working on a new “swarm” computing approach at the edge of the cloud, which Lee said now has the backing of nine universities, seven companies and DARPA.

Nevertheless, some standards will be needed. The big questions are how many and where, and those are difficult questions to answer because the IoT blurs lines between so many different market segments.

“Having one standard will be very difficult to achieve,” said Nimish Radia, director of research and innovation at Ericsson. “The reason is that we are going to see so much heterogeneity for the next 5 to 10 years.”

That seems to be the general consensus among companies that are actively involved in developing IoT solutions and products.

“The challenge will be the complexity of developing standards across layers,” said Chuck Adams, distinguished standards strategist at Huawei. “There have been a lot of standards activities going through early stage work over the past 12 months, and you will see a ramp up of standards that is very aggressive in the next 12 months.”

He said the challenges in standards include technology integration, convergence of IP, working with different application environments, regional priorities—particularly in the areas of power, transportation and health—as well as re-use of data once it is captured by the IoT.

Thinking differently about what’s needed
Part of this also involves a rethinking about how to go to market, with a heavy emphasis on a platform strategy that can span markets. Sven Natus, marketing and business development manager at Spansion, said one of the key considerations is identifying what is needed for multiple markets rather than just a single market, and having enough flexibility in the design to deliver only what is needed for each. The company’s new microcontroller line, for example, is significantly simpler than other offerings, including those from Spansion. “The big creative is scalability, footprint and external memory,” said Natus.

Micrium, which makes embedded software, has begun focusing on simplicity, as well, using software as a bridge between multiple vertical markets that will comprise the IoT. “What we’re doing is extending the boundary of software from low-level software all the way to back end systems,” said Mike Kaskowitz, vice president of sales and marketing. “Electronics are a commodity these days. The next decade will be all about software.”

ARM took great pains to show the value of software in simplifying IoT development at this week’s TechCon, as well, rolling out a free operating system and a software platform to speed the creation of IoT products. “Connectivity has to be removed as an obstacle of deployment,” said ARM CTO Mike Muller. “The IoT requires clean, simple ways of managing devices.”

Other requirements include “really efficient solutions,” support for periodic connectivity rather than just continuous connectivity, lightweight management and completely managed security, Muller said.