IoT Standards: All Grit, No Glamour

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Updated 5/2/2016
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All technological change depends on standards. The days of closed, proprietary systems are rapidly coming to an end, and today we think more about building ecosystems around open standards. The open-source movement, in particular, has brought together diverse factions, even hardline competitors in the marketplace. The goal is to forge standardized operating environments and hardware platforms, to make building blocks and components that organizations can use to develop fresh solutions to longstanding business challenges.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to get excited about standards. We know that standards are essential, but we also know that creating them requires endless hours of debate about precise terminology, interfaces, protocols, APIs, and other minutiae. Internet of Things (IoT) standards are particularly challenging—instead of trying to cobble together a collection of servers from across the continent or create an API to communicate with a web service, we’re trying to connect all of the electronic devices in the world, unified through a common framework. Think about what it takes to set up communications across a spectrum of machines and devices, including automobiles, homes, energy grids, and factories. The magnitude of the challenge goes far beyond daunting.

Moving Beyond Moore’s Law

The exacting work that’s needed to create a global IoT ecosystem is being accomplished collaboratively across a number of open source projects, standards bodies, and consortia. At stake is the future of the worldwide IoT ecosystem that could revolutionize the way in which cities operate, energy grids perform, and goods are transported. However, unlike the limited computer capabilities available in the 60’s, today we have supercomputers and architectural advances that are moving beyond Moore’s Law to deliver incredible levels of compute performance and new capabilities. And, in parallel, we have entire computer systems on a chip, leading to compact circuit boards ideal for embedding into a wide range of devices to harness intelligence from the edge of an IoT network.

4G Technology Struggle   

Standards don’t emerge without birthing pains. The struggle over the foundation of 4G wireless technology offers a good example. Industry giants went toe-to-toe, pitting Long Term Evolution (LTE) and mobile WiMAX as successor to GSM as the future mobile standard and the foundation of 4G networks. Billions of dollars and fierce arguments ensued, leading to an eventual industry-wide migration to LTE as Sprint, the primary carrier that originally championed WiMAX, has been moving remaining customers to its LTE network. Today, the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI TD-LTE) is pushing a variant of LTE that has quickly gained momentum and the industry is turning to open source components and network function virtualization (NFV) as building blocks for 5G technology, which promises better support for the IoT. Struggles similar to the tug-of-war surrounding 4G technology are going on across industries as IoT gains maturity.   

List of IoT-Related Standards Bodies and Consortia

The growth of IoT technologies is set to explode in 2016, according to Gartner. Gartner projects that the number of “things” in the IoT world will increase 30 percent over 2015, to 6.4 billion connected devices, generating service spending of $235 billion. The establishment of necessary standards will depend on the degree of harmony or conflict in the bodies that are driving development. Competitive proposals keep the dialog dynamic and interesting, particularly in the realm of mobile IoT communications. A partial list of the IoT-related standards bodies and consortia—and their self descriptions—includes:

  • 3GPP*– Works toward mobile broadband standards and support for IoT.

  • AllSeen Alliance – Enables the interoperability of billions of devices, services, and apps that comprise the IoT.

  • IEC Smart Grid Standards – Provides a roadmap for identifying the standards that apply to the smart grid, for achieving optimal electricity delivery.

  • IEEE Standards Association on Innovation and IoT – Enables products with real-world applications.  

  • Industrial Internet Consortium – Helpsto shape and grow the industrial Internet with a membership represent large and small industry, entrepreneurs, academics, and government organizations with an interest in .

  • Internet of Things Consortium – Drives adoption of IoT products and services through strategic partnerships, market education, consumer research, and business development initiatives.

  • Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance – Provides scalable, interoperable solutions that accelerate deployment of intelligent devices and end-to-end analytics.

  • IoTivity – Enables seamless device-to-device connectivity for IoT.

  • ISO/TC 204 Intelligent Transport Systems – Standardizes information, communication, and control systems in the field of urban and rural surface transportation.

  • ITU Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative – Promotes a unified approach for development of technical standards enabling the IoT on a global scale.

  • Open Connectivity Foundation* – Provides the software linking the IoT.

  • Thread – Creates the best way to connect and control products in the home.

Glamour in the Results

The unsung contributors in conference rooms forging the framework for the IoT hold the future of this technology in their hands. The decisions emerging from the standards environment will have a monumental effect on this entire industry. On top of this, we have ongoing questions about how government regulations will affect the growth and evolution of the market, how commercial interests will respond as the technologies unfold, how innovations from bright start-up companies will generate opportunities and interest, and how the ecosystem as a whole will support the activities and operations required to make IoT happen.

If there is glamour to the endeavor of establishing IoT standards, it is in the results. Like preproduction work in filmmaking, there is an endless procession of tiny, critical details that go into every project, none of which is particularly exciting on its own. The audience isn’t interested in the details—only the final result. Similarly, the standards—the foundation of the IoT—require a particular kind of dedication, an unusual amount of industry collaboration, and a spirit of invention. As the work comes together and we all drive smart cars, work in smart buildings, draw energy from a smart grid, the results of all the collaborative standards work will be realized.  

To get more deeply involved in furthering interoperability in the IoT ecosystem, consider joining the Open Connectivity Foundation, or engage with any of the standards bodies or consortia mentioned earlier.

For another perspective on the need for collaboration, this article, Collaboration is the platform for IoT success, offers more insights into the issue.

To dive more deeply into the IoT ecosystem, become a member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance.

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