SAN JOSE, Calif. Proponents of Internet Protocol for sensors networks have formed the IP for Smart Objects Alliance. IPSO has kicked off work on one of its first major objectives, setting an interoperability standard for running IPv6 on nets based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard.
Backers say IP opens the door to linking sensor and other simple networks directly to the Internet, eliminating the need for translation gateways. However, top developers have said clever programming techniques are needed to pack IPv6 into the memory and power requirements of sensor nets.
About 24 companies have become founding members of IPSO including Atmel, Cisco, Emerson, Freescale and Sun Microsystems. They compete with members of the Zigbee Alliance as well as backers of a host of other proprietary protocols.
"The technical people like [IP] because it means they don't have to build translation gateways, but the business people wanted to see an ecosystem of companies behind it," said Geoff Mulligan, a consultant and long time sensor net developer who was named chairman of the alliance.
"Some people don't get that now you can put IP in a sub-$2 device," he added. "We can fit into as small a memory footprint as anyone if not smaller," requiring as little as 4 Kbytes RAM and 32 Kbytes flash, he added.
"The formation of the IPSO Alliance represents a disruptive development for sensing and control [networks] and momentum [for its approach] is accelerating," said Mareca Hatler, principal analyst of On World (San Diego). "IP-based technologies for wireless sensor networking have been gaining attention over the past year, most notably 6LoWPAN," the Internet Engineering Task Force standard for running IPv6 over 802.14.5 nets, she added.
"ZigBee technology certainly enjoys the advantage of receiving more attention over the past few years as a result of an early start in the standards setting process," said George West, principal of market watcher West Technology Research Solutions LLC (Mountain View, Calif.) "IP and 6LowPAN represent a much later entry and have more ground to cover in order to overtake ZigBee mind share and market momentum."
However, businesses looking to deploy sensor nets want a standard, West added. "Most of these organizations deploy on TCP/IP today and they also see 6LowPAN as an easy extension to this architecture," he added.
The alliance hopes to have an interoperability program in place in November. It initially aims to test interoperability of the ten or more 6LoWPAN software stacks that have been released to date.
"After that we have some people interested in looking at interoperability between powerline and wireless links, but we're still thinking this though," said Mulligan who is also chair of the 6LoWPAN group.
The alliance hopes to attract more members from the end user community beyond Duke Energy and a French utility that have initially joined. Multiple companies are now shipping all the pieces needed for IP sensor nets, but deployments have generally been limited to a handful of pilot programs including one at the U.S. Army and another for electric meters in Florida.
"We are in our infancy, but IP is not in its infancy," said Mulligan. "I think we are fully ready with chips, nodes, software stacks, gateways and even carrier-grade routers," he added.
Beyond its interoperability work, the alliance will mainly serve marketing and education functions. However, it will also interact with standards efforts, some of which still have significant work ahead.
The 6LoWPAN effort is now considering extensions for security, node discovery and other features. A related effort to define a routing protocol for 6LoWPAN nets just finished a market requirements analysis.