Where Are The IoT Industry Standards?

While some Internet of Things groups are proceeding with setting standards, connectivity and other aspects are still up in the air.


Are you ready for some Internet of Things standards? Good, because you can help make them.

The IoT is proceeding apace as a business, eagerly embraced by such corporate behemoths as Cisco Systems, General Electric, IBM, and Verizon Communications. What’s lacking is the codification of industry standards for the IoT, as many companies have aligned with groups that have competing agendas and goals, like the AllSeen Alliance (which is disbanding), the Industrial Internet Consortium, the IPSO Alliance, the Open Connectivity Foundation, and the Thread Group.

There’s also IEEE P2413, an IoT architecture working group within the IEEE Standards Association, an organization that often has the last word on electronics industry standards, such as Ethernet and Wi-Fi. Such technologies often have a dedicated organization behind them, including the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) and the Wi-Fi Alliance.

It is possible that some of the competing IoT standards groups could consolidate, as seen with the three organizations implementing wireless charging technology. The Alliance for Wireless Power and the Power Matters Alliance merged in 2015, together rebranding as the AirFuel Alliance. The Wireless Power Consortium, which is supporting a different type of charging technology, still stands apart with its Qi standard. Indeed, the AllSeen Alliance is now merging with the Open Connectivity Foundation, with the OCF remaining as the existing organization.

Some steps have been taken by the IoT groups. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) last month released the initial version of its Industrial Internet Security Framework, opening the specification to industry and academic discussion. In July, the Thread Group and the OCF said they would work together on adoption of connected-home products. The standards silos are getting connected, so to speak.

Linley Gwennap of The Linley Group gave the keynote address at last month’s ARC Processor Summit in Santa Clara, Calif., taking “IoT Standards Wars: Designers Caught in the Middle?” as his theme.

While IoT is leading to certain successful products, such as fitness bands, Internet-connected appliances, and home automation systems, there are “many different standards for different applications,” Gwennap said. He predicted, “Over time, things will settle down.”

Bluetooth, in its various flavors, is “the most popular low-power standard,” he noted, the Bluetooth Smart/Bluetooth Low Energy version in particular. The Bluetooth Classic specification offers more bandwidth, Gwennap added, and Bluetooth 5 will double the wireless connectivity standard’s data rate. The fifth version of Bluetooth will focus on IoT technology.

“Bluetooth mesh is on the horizon,” Gwennap commented. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group is developing a mesh networking specification, also useful for IoT.

“Wi-Fi is the most popular WLAN protocol” for IoT, the industry analyst and consultant noted.

While ZigBee, 6LoWPAN, and Thread have their advocates, the wide-area network field is abuzz with technologies under development, such as cellular IoT, IEEE 802.11ah (a Wi-Fi standard), the LoRa Alliance, narrowband Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE), and 5G wireless communications. Like the IoT in many ways, 5G is a grab-bag of technologies, also lacking in widely accepted standards.

“No one standard fits all,” Gwennap said, adding, “IoT security is essential. Most IoT devices today do not implement security at all.”

He went on to talk about remote controls for home systems. “Most of them have no security,” he said. “People are rushing these devices. A firewall on the gateway is not enough. Security must cover all levels.”

Over-the-air updates to system software are “powerful yet dangerous,” Gwennap asserted. Encryption must be employed to protect data in flight and the software code of IoT products, and a secure boot is needed, as well. Securing the IoT also calls for true random number generators, secure subsystems, and trusted execution environments for embedded CPUs, according to Gwennap.

In closing, he said the consumer market represents “the biggest IoT opportunities.”

Scott Jacobson, product marketing director for the Verification IP Group at Cadence, sees the IoT standard-setting process taking 5 to 10 years to complete.

“There’s kind of a range of things going on right now…as far as standards go,” Jacobson said. “It’s a big battleground right now on how to address the utility of those kinds of sensors with their different limitations and requirements, and turning that it into some kind of a standard or set of standards that really works well.”

He added, “You look at the smallest endpoint, you look at an embedded sensor in an IoT device…a fitness band, right? In that use model, you’ve got limited battery energy available, you don’t have to set a whole lot of data, but you need to set some data. There’s an asymmetric on/off time that you need to manage in order to conserve energy. The battleground there is how to manage the energy per bit of information you need to transfer because once you run out of energy, you’ve got to recharge the battery.”

Bluetooth, ZigBee, and IEEE 802.15.4 are among the connectivity standards being widely used in IoT, Jacobson noted.

Dennis Crespo, product marketing director for Cadence’s Tensilica IP Group, said seamless integration will be key to consumer adoption of IoT technology. “Whether it’s from a refrigerator to a Nest thermostat to a door lock to a Fitbit on your wrist – when you don’t have to think about the integration, so all you do is use the devices that make your life easier. That’s really the struggle going on right now. It’s still fractured.”

He added, “As long as IoT is looked at a collection of separate devices, it’s going to struggle to get the wide adoption that it’s always been touted to be able to get. When it becomes a seamless integration, and you don’t even have to think about it, that’s when whatever standard or specifications can get devices to the point, it’s really going to take off and become ubiquitous.”

The Internet of Things needs more things in common to become the technology that consumers, industrial manufacturers (including the automotive industry), and information technology companies can all embrace.

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