Standards and best practices evolve from maturing markets.
The Internet took a lot of time to grow up.
By extension, the Internet of Things will also take time to mature.
The infancy stage of the Internet started when packet switching and TCP/IP were born with the ARPANET in 1969. Slow growth of networked communications occurred over the next 20 years until the World Wide Web was born with the introduction of hypertext and HTTP by Tim Berners-Lee from CERN in 1989.
Rapid growth ensued. The Web browser came in 1995 and ushered in an era of acceleration of the digital realm that continues unabated today. Smartphones (as we currently know them) started in 2007 with the introduction of the original iPhone.
Through the years the Internet has evolved as various systems and standards have come online either by necessity or desire. Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1994 to develop protocols and standards to define the Web. The Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers (ICANN) came online in 1998 to regulate IP addresses and top level domains (like .net, .com or .org).
Exponential IoT Growth Built On Top Of Existing Infrastructure
The Internet of Things is built on top of this infrastructure. But the Internet of Things is also its own extension of what we classically think of as the “Internet.” Google has a project it calls the “Physical Web.” Point-to-point wireless communications—Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Thread, NFC etc.—connect devices to each other instead of the Internet itself. New standards bodies have emerged like the Open Connectivity Foundation (itself a confluence of competing standards with members from both the AllSeen Alliance and the Open Internet Consortium).
The Internet of Things may not have a defining product or moment that ushers in its “era,” but it will have a parallel growth track to that of the Internet.
“The industry has a lot of experience bridging between physical transports. Even in your house you have Wi-Fi, you have Ethernet and it just works,” said Mike Richmond, executive direction of the OCF and long-time Intel engineer. “Just like the real Internet. I mean, that’s what happened to the real Internet.”
Dr. Kevin Curran of the IEEE agrees that standards and consumer protections will evolve with the Internet of Things in the same way they have over the last 20 years of the Web.
“It is actually evolving exactly like that, because the standards aren’t there are the moment,” Dr. Curran said. “What we have are proprietary solutions as everyone is racing to get that killer Internet of Things device.”
The difference between the growth of the Internet of Things and the Internet itself is that IoT is building on top of and extending the exponential growth of the Internet.
“I actually think that things move exponentially, building up on what has already happened,” said Raj Talluri, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm.
Qualcomm, which sales its fair share of the 14.8 billion or so ARM chips shipped in 2015, has visibility into the IoT market unmatched by most other hardware or software vendors. Most of the chips Qualcomm sells today are destined for products that will ship three years. Talluri sees the Internet of Things as building brick-by-brick as people continue to make purchases of connected devices.
“My perspective on that is that it is going to happen and it is going to happen incrementally and it is going to creep up on you and you are going to get used to it and you won’t think about it that much,” Talluri said. “In my mind people keep talking about this thing is going to happen. We need standards … yeah, that will make it even better. But today, one purchase at a time, you are living in a connected world. And every new thing you buy is connected.”
Talluri’s mindset is similar to that of many early Web entrepreneurs who were more concerned with building products and markets than they were in setting up the rules that would govern those products and markets.
Competing And Coalescing Standards Groups For The IoT
Dr. Curran says that the standards will emerge as the Internet of Things develops.
“Once the market develops, then the standards have to come,” Dr. Curran said. “Consumers win when the standards are there. So, of course, the big boys want to come together. And there are some consortiums that are coming together trying to standardize.”
The Internet of Things standards group will emerge from the same or similar groups that formed around the Internet. Some will be dedicated to specific technologies while others will coalesce around specific projects, like security or connectivity standards.
See also: The Basics Of Bluetooth LE Development
For instance, just in the wireless space we find any variety of groups motivated primarily by the Internet of Things:
Architecture and standards groups like the IEEE, W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force are applying their knowledge and support to building out the Internet of Things. The IIC (Industrial Internet Consortium) is focused specifically on the Industrial Internet of Things for the likes of manufacturing and infrastructure and boast members such as AT&T, Intel, IBM, General Electric and Cisco. The App Developers Alliance was started to focus on marketing and education and marketing for app developers and has extended its service into IoT development. Even the lighting sector has its own IoT-related group with GE, Panasonic, Philips and others joining the Connected Lighting Alliance.
Some of these groups naturally compete with each other. Some groups are naturally aligned, like Zigbee or Z-Wave and the Connected Lighting Alliance. Many companies are members of several overlapping groups.
“There is no universal standard. Like the IETF or ICANN,” said Dr. Curran. “But that is a problem. We’ve moved to multi-platform, multi-shaped, multiple interfaces … but no standard. And there is no universal answer. But that is the problem as well. Things have become richer. Deeper. But how do go beyond the 5% functionality of these modern interfaces and devices?”
Middle image: Lead image: “Beacons by jnxyz.education” via Jonathan Nalder, Flickr Creative Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.
Correction: AllSeen and OIC did not “merge” or partner but rather some AllSeen members are also a member of OFC. AllSeen still exists independently of OCF.