November 2014

Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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Standardizing the Internet of Things

Boiling the Ocean
Jim SinopoliJim Sinopoli PE,

Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

Internet of Things

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By now, we all know the basics of the Internet of Things (IoT).   Everything will be connected to every other thing using the internet. The “things” that will be connected are embedded computing devices with special purpose programming for a single application (heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on animals, smart thermostat systems etc.), systems and services. Connecting all these devices, services and systems will theoretically lead to a level of automation for a variety of fields that’s never been seen; healthcare, education, manufacturing, building operations, energy, security, etc.

It’s estimated that 15- 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020, and that the IoT will add almost two trillion dollars to the economy. It’s hyped as the next big thing, the next “technology revolution”. The IoT is likely to spawn a number of new companies, loads of venture capital, skyrocketing stock prices, future profits as opposed to real profits and of course, lots of speculation.

There is no doubt that much of the global population is habituated to smartphones, laptops, tablets, game consoles and ICT in general. One of the questions for the IoT marketplace is how much automation people want in their lives, and at what point does technology just complicate their lives. Do we really want our refrigerators to alert the local grocery store that the household is low on milk? Will our kid’s game console really be connected to the house security system or Mom’s external drive? Surely the people that purchased Google glasses or have more than three IT platforms are all over the IoT. The rest of us will be interested in it, but will also be looking for the value in the IoT.

So where is the value?  Connecting or integrating devices generally has two benefits or value propositions. One value is integrating two or more systems to provide functionality that none of the systems or devices could provide individually. The other benefit is acquiring data from devices and analyzing or mining the data for developing and gathering information. This is essentially what many astute facility management groups are now doing; integrating building systems to provide more functionality and deploying analytic software applications to improve the performance of building systems.

One of the primary issues for the IoT is the scrabble to create standards. The IoT obviously needs standards because: (1) we want devices to interoperate, (2) we want the devices to communicate globally, (3) standards could potentially lower costs for IoT deployment through economies of scale, reducing costs for manufacturers, operators and consumers, and (4) standards could also be part of generating satisfied customers. In this scenario potential customers will know that standard’s bodies and major technology companies have made it easy and transparent regarding the deployment and operation of their devices. That kind of confidence would result in increased sales, and finally (5) worldwide standards could also mean enabling global markets to help eliminate or reduce trade barriers.

Disparate Devices Without IoT standards for communication and interoperability we end up with confusion or potential customers having to select proprietary devices by a company or consortium. If that is the case the larger market is not the actual IoT devices but rather the market for middleware and gateways, the glue between all the disparate devices.

Given the lofty expectations for the IoT, multiple organizations are creating and proposing standards on how devices connect and communicate. The organizations include standard bodies or associations. Other organizations are alliances or consortiums, created from commercial vendors, some of which may partner, and others that may compete.

There is a utopian idea that all the devices will be able to communicate despite different manufacturers or operating systems, with all the devices broadcasting to other devices in some common language. That may work if there is one standard. However when you have multiple guidelines, you don’t have a standard.

The potential players involved with the IoT standards include:

AllSeen Alliance – This alliance has 70 participants. The largest members of this organization are Microsoft, Panosonic, LG, Haier, Sharp, Sony, Cisco, Bosch, HTC and Qualcomm. They are proposing the use of AllJoyn, an open source software framework developed by Qualcomm, given to the Alliance for its members to develop IoT applications and devices.

The Industrial Internet Consortium – This organization was founded in early 2014. The founding group includes Cisco, AT&T, IBM, GE and Intel. Other members include other commercial companies, academia and government. Their mission is to define “common architectures for smart objects” and “further development, adoption and wide-spread use of interconnected machines and intelligent analytics” focusing on industrial automation. Their goal is to identify the requirements for open interoperability standards.

ISPO Alliance – Founded in 2008, the IPSO Alliance is seeking to establish the Internet Protocol as the basis for the connection of Smart Objects. Members or promoters in ISPO include Bosch, Silicon Labs, Freescale, Ericsson and ARM. IPSO’s Smart Object Guidelines provide a common design pattern, and an object model that can effectively use the protocol to provide high level interoperability between Smart Object devices and connected software applications on other devices and services.

IEEE Standards Association - Unlike the “alliances or consortiums” IEEE is actually a standard body. IEEE mission is to “foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity”. IEEE actually has a journal called the Internet of Things Journal, IEEE. Recall if you will that that something called “Ethernet”, which is a key component of many networks is an IEEE standard; so is Wi-Fi via IEEE 802.11. Beyond that there’s IEEE standards for Local and Metropolitan Area Networks, Information Technology (information exchange between systems), Broadband Wireless Access Systems, Scalable Storage Interfaces, Broadband over Power Line Networks, and probably another 40 or 50 related standards. IEEE most certainly seems to have many of the key standards that eventually IoT will use.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies. It has membership of 193 countries and over 700 private-sector entities and academic institutions. They’re probably best known for facilitating agreement on global resources like radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbital positions. The ITU launched their Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative (IoT-GSI) back in 2012.

Global Standards

In addition to all the organizations wanting to create standards, you have significant companies such as Google recently announcing a new networking protocol called Thread, which aims to create a standard for communication between connected household devices.

If you take a look at the commercial companies involved in some associations or consortiums attempting to create the IoT standards, almost all are technology companies; chip manufacturers, and hardware and software vendors. Surely home automation and wearable technology will be significant sectors, given the involvement of IT companies.

Ericsson may be the one automation company involved in creating standards, but many of the large automation companies are either not interested or simply want to wait to see how the marketplace develops.

What effect or influence will the IoT really have on building management? Many owners already have some sort of system integration, even if it’s just the fire system, HVAC, access control and conveyance equipment. The IoT could possibly push more integration and sensors in buildings, and maybe more advanced building management systems.

In some ways, many building owners that implemented integration, and used analytics software applications have already started down the path of the IoT; its foundations are connectivity, integration, sensors with valuable and granular data, and the creation of detail policy and logic for the building’s operations.

Developing Standards may be the Achilles heel of the IoT. It may take some time, and it may eventually result in multiple standards, including proprietary standards from groups of commercial technology companies. That could delay the IoT market everyone is expecting.

With the building automation’s long history of a handful of well-known global communication protocols, and some excellent gateways and middleware in the market, facility managers have the tools to take their buildings to a higher and more valuable level of building automation, with or without the IoT.


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