The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) represents a dramatic twist in societal evolution; ‘things’ of any nature have the potential to interconnect and, in the process, they are bound to change how we think and go about our daily lives.
An ITU workshop, “Internet of Things: Trends and challenges in standardization”, held at ITU headquarters in Geneva, 18 February 2014, gathered a multi-disciplinary selection of experts to take stock of progress in the IoT arena with a view to highlighting priorities for its future development.
A keynote presentation given by Daniel Faulk of SAP explored several IoT dimensions in key ‘vertical’ markets, focusing in particular on resulting opportunities for the enterprise in relation to new IoT-fuelled sources of ‘big data’.
Among the other guest speakers were representatives of standards bodies such as ITU-T, IEEE, OGC and oneM2M; the open-source community, with the likes of Eclipse and OASIS; and companies including SAP and u-blox. Academic and research institutes were integral to the event and presentations were given on IoT-related research underway at the University of Dortmund (Germany), Institut Mines Télécom/Telecom Bretagne (France), the University of Tokyo (Japan), the Bosch IoT Lab at St. Gallen University (Switzerland), the Georgia Institute of Technology (USA), and the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (Korea).
Trends and Challenges
Speakers’ presentations are freely available on the ITU website here. A number of themes came to dominate the workshop’s discussions:
- Several equally promising, well-researched avenues have been established around the world to develop IoT standards that would meet the market’s expectations.
- The IoT is more cluttered and complex than cellular; its value resides in the data, not the connection.
- IoT standards development should emphasize speed and simplicity, something being reflected by a renewed sense of urgency in IoT standardization.
- The importance of open-source solutions cannot be denied and will continue to grow.
- Portfolios of IoT-related standards and protocols are already available at all OSI layers.
- Security, privacy and trust are recurring leitmotifs in conversations around the IoT and here the workshop welcomed the crucial discussions around IoT regulation currently underway in the European Union and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
- Workshop participants highlighted the need to improve the coordination of IoT standards development, both among and within different standards bodies.
A challenging global jigsaw puzzle
The workshop’s speakers represent only a sample of global IoT standardization efforts. Other ICT standardization expert groups working on the topic include those with a ‘horizontal’ perspective such as the IETF, ISO/IEC JTC 1 Special Working Group 5, Open Mobile Alliance and the Object Management Group; and others that serve the IoT standards needs of ‘vertical’ markets such as healthcare, energy (smart grid), intelligent transportation, home and building automation, manufacturing and household appliances. In addition, some countries may develop ‘domestic’ IoT standards, with an example provided in the guidelines published by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) which aim to establish at least 200 national and industrial IoT standards by 2015.
Given the multiplicity of IoT-related ecosystems, it was suggested during the workshop that the standards community might not achieve a ‘one-size-fits-all’ IoT standards suite (arguably the preferred outcome) and that several actionable options of more limited scope might eventually coexist.
IoT standardization’s future direction
The huge potential of the IoT is well documented. An expression heard during the workshop noted that its emergence has been one of “phenomenal and impactful growth”.
However, while passionately desired and discussed in many circles, there is not yet a lingua franca for the IoT industry. And like Godot, despite our anticipation, this lingua franca might never show up. As such, perhaps there is scope for concurrent paths to be explored in the IoT standardization field, hedging our bets by building effective bridges between idiosyncratic IoT intranets (viz. leaning on different protocols). A possible advantage of such an approach could be having firewalls between subnets, acting as ramparts against cascades of catastrophic failures and generalized security breaches. In addition, as the IoT will call for the transformation of business models, discussions around IoT’s standardization must include those around its management if we are to foster “trust, motivation and involvement”, a triad the workshop highlighted as key to the IoT’s success.
This ITU event again underlined that, to achieve mainstream IoT adoption, a broad range of issues must still be overcome in areas spanning from its technical underpinnings and management to its legal and societal implications. In light of the numerous IoT protocols, standards and business models under development, driving the IoT’s expansion will pivot around our ability to accelerate and extend dialog that brings together the many pieces of the IoT puzzle.
By Bilel Jamoussi and Alain Louchez
Dr. Bilel Jamoussi is Chief of the Study Groups Department at the International Telecommunication Union Standardization Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland where he is responsible for the organization and management of the ITU-T Study Groups, Focus Groups, Global Standardization Initiatives, Joint Coordination Activities, and their secretariat.
Alain Louchez is the Managing Director of the Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT pronounced sedate) in charge of directing the Internet of Things (IoT)-related development efforts across the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). He is a member of the Advisory Council of the Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) and the Georgia Tech Lorraine (European campus) Advisory Board.