Pressure Builds To Develop Internet of Things Standards

First installment in a three-part series of articles on why we need IoT standards and where they stand.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge organizations face when it comes to embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) is a lack of interoperability standards. The reason? It’s simple: A massive management headache looms when devices operate in siloes.

Ideally, IoT standards would need to be robust and flexible enough to manage the proliferation of IoT devices and millions of tasks they perform.

However, as important as standards are, developing them is a daunting task considering each vertical – consumer electronics, utilities, healthcare, finance, retail, education and many others – has its own specialized communications protocol today.

What IoT Standards Would Do

In essence, the standards and protocols will be a set way of enabling an IoT device to be “discovered” – to let other IoT devices know that it is there and has something to say – and for messages to be securely received, accessed, decoded and responded to, among other things.

However, Although the individual messages generally are simple, the overall job is very difficult.

For instance, it would be easy for an IoT sensor in a refrigerator’s compressor to alert a manufacturer that the device is about to fail. The message would simply be a digital yellow flag and an identification code. But in an end-to-end IoT environment, that alert would set off a long chain reaction that could include a directive to order parts for the new compressor to be delivered to the factory, shipping the finished compressor to a warehouse, and setting up an installation appointment. These would be sent without human involvement. The exchange of these messages must be timely, secure, and privacy-protected. 

The end goal of the standards efforts – which are aimed at making this automated complexity possible –  is a broad family of interfaces and interconnections that are specialized for each vertical and each domain (such as the datacenter, the shipping process, or the factory floor).

The cloud will play a big role in letting each of these specialized domains use the standards to send data in a way that can be understood by the others.

IoT Standards Status

Right now, the big corporations and the smaller entrepreneurs understand the need for IoT standards and are working to create them. There are a couple of challenges ahead:

The issue isn’t whether the IoT will exist or not. It does today, and will grow. Gartner has predicted 4.9 Billion connected “Things” would be use in this year. The question is whether it ultimately will be limited to tiny islands of connectivity, making it only useful in a limited way, or if IoT will realize the fuller vision of end-to-end networks that are at the very heart of how society functions.

Whether or not standards become established take hold is perhaps the most important variable in determining which possible future becomes the reality. In my next post, we will take up the discussion of the standards groups and consortia and what they do.



Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecommunications journalist. His freelance work appears at IT Business Edge, Energy Manager Today, and other corporate and journalistic sites.

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