On hearing the term Internet of Things (IoT), the first picture that comes to the mind is “connected things.” At the most basic level, IoT is the connectivity between people, processes and things.
IoT is transforming the way we interact with our surroundings. Smart homes, smart meters, smart cities, smart wearables are impacting our lives all due to the rapid growth of the IoT market.
While IoT market leaders have aggressive IoT business strategies to create seamless, contextual experiences, there are multiple challenges the industry is coping with including security, connectivity, standards, compatibility, longevity and intelligent analysis. In fact, IoT interoperability is one of the central challenges. Today, IoT ecosystems lack basic interoperability to connect devices and sensors seamlessly.
■ Interoperability has the potential to unlock more than $4 trillion per year in potential economic impact from IoT use by 2025, according to McKinsey & Co.
■ Gartner identified Interoperability as one of the top three challenges preventing IoT from reaching its full potential.
The lack of interoperability prevents devices from connecting autonomously, discovering each other and collaboratively engaging with other smart devices and services, which is a barrier for companies to build automated ecosystems.
IoT Interoperability challenge
The interoperability challenge can manifest itself in a number of ways:
■ Devices made by different manufacturers cannot integrate
■ Limited connectivity between different transport protocols such as Ethernet, WiFi and Zigbee
■ No set rules or standards at the application level, causing an inability to combine and compliment the collected data from different sensors and devices.
Let’s imagine a smart home scenario that has full interoperability. The home is networked to enable multiple interconnected devices, services and apps—from entertainment to healthcare, security and home automation—to provide contextual experiences for the household. Here, the products from the likes of Google, Amazon, Samsung, Nest, Phillips, IKEA and Yale are integrated seamlessly so individuals can control and monitor the home remotely and from within. This includes:
■ The alarm clock on the user’s mobile device automatically turns on nest thermostat and switches on Philips hue
■ Using voice command, Amazon Alexa Echo turns off the alarm and triggers the Coffee smart-coffee machine to brew the coffee.
■ Wearable bands, devices and ingestible sensors monitors heart rate, blood pressure and other health parameters and automatically sends the data to the doctor for analysis in case of anomalies.
■ The Samsung smart refrigerator checks the availability of the daily essentials such as milk and bread and orders them automatically.
■ Connected in-home robots help with everything from cooking, cleaning and other daily chores.
■ Honeywell sensors and security cameras detect unusual movement or sound at home and notify the homeowner through mobile or initiate emergency services.
■ On the way home, the connected car remotely turns on the nest thermostat and can control other home devices.
■ As the owner reaches home, the Yale Assure smart lock unlocks, the IKEA smart lights brighten up the house and Google home starts playing the preferred evening playlist automatically.
In short, the opportunities for connectivity are almost endless, limited only by the imagination.
Where is industry heading to achieve interoperability?
There are two key areas companies are focusing on to improve interoperability:
■ IoT standardization
■ Converged smart ecosystem
Many technology companies and OEMs are developing interoperability solutions by adopting standards and open-source development. Here are some of the groups working to improve IoT standardization:
Responsible for developing the AllJoyn framework, which is an open-source framework. AllJoyn is transport-, OS- and platform-agnostic that makes it easy for devices and apps to discover and securely communicate with each other.
Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF)
OCF was formed in early 2016 through the merger of the AllSeen Alliance and Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC).
OCF has created specifications for a service-layer platform that allows device discovery and connectivity across devices from different vendors and across multiple operating systems. The reference implementation of the OCF specification is called IoTivity.
Launched in 2012, the goal of oneM2M is to develop technical specifications that address the need of a common service layer that can be embedded within hardware and software.
The Thread Group, an alliance founded in July 2014, is the promoter of Thread.
Thread is a low power, low data-rate embedded networking stack, built on 6LowPAN (low power wireless personal area networks) that allows even small devices to be connected to the internet.
Thread competes with ZigBee and Z Wave. Thread and the ZigBee Alliance are collaborating to enable the ZigBee Cluster Library (branded “dotdot”) to run over Thread networks.
Wi-Fi HaLow and Bluetooth 5 are the IoT wireless standard leaders to capture IoT market by providing enhanced speeds, wide-range and low-power connectivity.
Converged smart ecosystem
Consumers expectations for IoT are high. They believe IoT solutions should be delivered and managed seamlessly, with products and services working together behind the scenes. To meet these expectations, global brands are working together to establish innovative partnerships to deliver connectivity of devices and a seamless user experience.
Global brands competing in the smart home market, including Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung, are moving towards a "certified with" approach, which attracts other providers to certify their products so they can participate in these ecosystems. This way, global leaders build out smart ecosystems of integrated products from different providers and standards. However, certification should also mean that the product integrates and works seamlessly with other certified products within the same ecosystem.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, most users are likely to opt for connected home solutions that are linked to a certified ecosystem.
Point of View
The IoT market is attracting a large number of vendors and other players including standalone device providers, platform enablers and service-based ecosystems. However, in an attempt to grab IoT market share, these vendors and solution providers are fragmenting the market, worsening interoperability, which is the very problem they are trying to solve.
It is likely that the battles between standards and ecosystems will persist for the next three to five years. However, like any industry, we will witness the rise of disruptive innovators and niche players that cover the whole spectrum of products and services, which will lead to consolidation through aggressive mergers and acquisitions.
Players like Google, Apple, Amazon and Samsung have the potential to create the interoperable ecosystems that include not only their own devices but those of third-party device makers.
These technology leaders need to focus on innovating integrated smart ecosystems. They should continue their efforts of opening APIs and ensuring products integrate with their ecosystems to orchestrate smart solutions.
Irrespective of the way interoperability will take shape, the future potential is very exciting. Being part of Aricent, we are at the center of the technology, engineering and innovation and are ready to solve the most complex, mission-critical issues that will lead our customers into the future.
About the author
Arpna Gupta is Senior Engineering Manager working on digital solutions and likes to explore emerging technologies that can create a difference in the world.