BARCELONA — When people talk about the Internet-connected devices -- the Internet of Things -- they do not only mean devices connected to “The Internet,” but to a mix of networks, waveforms, and fixed-line infrastructures.
This continuing development of what IoT means and what it can become was at the forefront of discussion at the last day of the 2014 Mobile World Congress here that included executives from the likes of leading Internet of Things purveyors as Huawei, ZTE, ARM, Sierra Wireless, Ubuntu, and Freescale.
Consider what has happened just recently:
- Google’s acquisition of Nest Labs has raised expectations about the potential value of the Internet of Things market, and many players in the industry want to leverage their technology and position to dominate the playing field.
- Cisco has predicted that we will have over 50 billion connected devices by 2020. This number is considered bullish by some, but cautious by most. With almost 7 billion cellphones active in the world already, within six years we could have an almost unlimited number of connected devices.
There’s a lot at stake and a lot to consider, even just looking down the road a few short years.
“Today we are doing well connecting people, but IoT is about connecting infrastructure to improve the quality of our lives,” said Tim Summers, director of sales for Freescale, a company that makes the core of many connected devices.
The future of the Internet of Things debated at MWC 2014.
All of the executives assembled agreed that the 50 billion number is probably conservative, but they recognize that, in order to be able to support all those connections, new networks and standards are necessary, and the technology has to evolve to create new lightweight, cheap, secure, and power-efficient devices.
The lack of standards is one of the main barriers to mass adoption of connected devices, they agreed. Much the same could be heard at the Internet of Things World Forum in Barcelona last November. Many players are developing their own M2M and IoT networks, effectively creating a Tower of Babel that will make it difficult to manage and connect all these devices.
In the words of Adam Gould, vice president of the Sensinode Business at ARM:
We need standards at the radio level, the security layer, and the data format level... For developers it is necessary that they know that those devices are going to be able to talk to each other and [that they] really focus on the application.
Another big issue is security.
Many devices already being installed, such as smart-meters, are expected to be operational for years, even decades. The security systems embedded in those devices might be enough today, but not in the future.
“We need to prevent access to the devices, both physically and logically, blocking access to the configuration parameters [...] We need to create a security layer, upgradeable, between one device and the device or the service it needs to talk to, on both sides”, said Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth.
The cellular operators are, as usual, interested in controlling the IoT ecosystem, since most M2M devices existing today run on cellular networks.
But operators can only supply some of the elements of the ecosystem.
Open standards are needed to allow new players to create and design services, applications, and new devices. In addition, regulators must address the security and privacy implications of the IoT to ensure data collection is handled properly.