While many enabling technologies for the Internet of Things (IoT) are already available to developers and end users, the missing ingredient has been the glue connecting platforms into one enormous living system. Despite the plethora of communications protocols in use today, “smart devices” suffer from the seemingly dumb problem of not being able to talk to each other. For example, take the smart meters and smart appliances that have been sold into homes for years now. The smart meter can receive grid consumption metrics from the utility company, and smart appliances can be managed remotely. However, the value of both the smart meter and the smart appliances increases exponentially if the meter can act upon usage data it receives from the utility and instruct the appliances to run only during off-peak hours, thereby saving the consumer money. But this can’t happen at present because the smart meter and smart appliances don’t speak the same language.
This is a problem of application domains, as a lack of interoperability prevents the different systems from identifying each other, provisioning network resources, and exchanging information. It is also a reflection of the tendency to think of the IoT as simply a bunch of devices connected to the Internet, rather than groups of interoperable devices converging in the physical realm to make up a vast network structure.
“What is missing is looking at the IoT as a ‘system of systems’ so to speak, and trying to figure out application layer protocols – which would be called Layer 7 in conventional Open System Interconnection (OSI) networks – that would enable us to essentially provide a sufficient level of data exchange from one application domain to another,” says Oleg Logvinov, member of the IEEE-SA Corporate Advisory Group and Director of Market Development at STMicroelectronics (www.st.com). “There are many developments at the moment. They’re not very unified, they are not very global, but many groups are trying to innovate as we speak in the direction of how to provide seamless provisioning of the device, how the device can join the network without putting a burden on the user. And in some cases there is no user because if it’s just Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication, the device has to be provisioned to the system without any kind of user participation. That’s one aspect of it and that’s where you see a lot of work happening on the standardization side.”
Standardization will be a fundamental component of IoT rollouts, primarily because it ensures interoperability between devices intended for use in different vertical markets. But as Logvinov points out, current efforts to regulate interactions between systems are disjointed, and require that some entity govern interoperability standards to build and benefit the ecosystems affected by the IoT. The IEEE Corporate Advisory Group is an arm of the IEEE board of advisors that works with industry to advance this concept, he continues.
“If you look at the concept of 50 billion devices based on some studies, and some studies 100 billion connected devices, it is very important to create a very interoperable experience where the economies of scale can help drive the cost down, drive the performance up, and make sure that ecosystems can be built,” Logvinov says. “The IEEE’s goal is to essentially create a platform where multiple vertical silos can actually get together and explore convergence, what is similar among them, and potentially start cooperating and trying to reuse developments. As an example, let’s talk about the smart home. What was developed for home automation, maybe the same concept can now be propelled into e-health domain applications. If you look at the device configuration, device health monitoring, security, provisioning, data privacy protection – all of those concepts are very similar, regardless of which application silo you’re looking at. And from cross pollination and cooperation of multiple silos you can actually derive a lot of value. That is probably the main overarching goal of IEEE, to become the ‘smartest stakeholder’ of platforms where multiple industries, multiple verticals can come together and benefit from this work.
“If you look at the practical example – why, as an example, am I spending the time in this domain – the proof is in the pudding,” Logvinov continues. One of the areas where STMicro is involved on a daily basis is in the development of gateway platforms for smart homes. At CES 2014 we showed one of our products that is essentially built into a gateway device developed by our partner, and that gateway is focused on home energy management, home surveillance, home automation, e-health connectivity, and many other features. So it is really a practical example of how the smartest stakeholder approach can come together on a single platform and enable less expensive, more efficient, and probably from the customer point of view, a more useful experience.”
Realizing that no single company can provide everything that the IoT needs, the IEEE is currently organizing a number of workshops and events to identify roadmaps and ecosystem requirements. More information on these activities can be found at standards.ieee.org/innovate/iot/.