The Need for IoT Standards
Imagine a world in which you can tell your phone you’re leaving work, and your washing machine automatically starts the laundry at home so that it’s ready for the dryer when you arrive. Or your oven begins preheating so that you can pop a pizza in when you get home. Or, on cold days, your car automatically starting and warming up for your drive home. Imagine coming home from the grocery store, and your hands are full. No worries! The camera above your door has recognized you, and your door has unlocked and is already swinging open for your convenience.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine these scenarios anymore; they’re happening now. It is estimated there will be 30 billion IoT connected devices by 2020 and 75 billion devices by 2025. But with all these devices from dozens of manufacturers exploding onto the scene, how will they all work together? Today, many of them don’t—but it’s essential that they do.
The Importance of Technical Standards
That’s where technical standards come in. Standardizing products allows devices to work together, making the products easier to use and more appealing to end users. It also creates competition among manufacturers, which reduces prices and gives consumers a choice. But what’s in it for the manufacturer?
Often, companies want to lock you into their products so that you solely use their brand. But most companies don’t make every type of product. Door lock companies don’t usually make dishwashers. Automotive product companies don’t usually make medical devices. So, allowing devices to work together actually expands the market for the manufacturer without having to develop products outside of their specialization. It also allows for smaller niche products to work with more widespread ones. Beyond that, making devices more versatile and easier to use makes these devices more appealing in general so that all manufacturers sell more products. As for the price, the best way for companies to keep prices up is to produce newer, better and more innovative products, which benefits the consumer as well.
Spearheading IoT Standards for Interoperability and Security
Where do standards come from? For standards related to IoT, an organization has been created called the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF). OCF is committed to consumers, businesses and industries to deliver a standard communication platform to ensure interoperability and security for IoT devices. These standards will span multiple industries, including smart homes, automotive, industrial, scientific and medical, to name a few.
OCF’s goal is for devices from various manufacturers to operate together seamlessly and securely. Currently, OCF’s membership includes roughly 400 member organizations, including major software companies, service providers and silicon chip manufacturers. OCF has developed specifications and is using an open-source platform called IoTivity (hosted by the Linux Foundation) that can be embedded in IoT devices. IoTivity is used to create middleware that will allow various clients and servers to communicate with one another. The communications occur in software, so the physical connections (e.g., Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-wave, ethernet) aren’t an issue.
But OCF isn’t just about interoperability. The latest release of the OCF platform incorporates PKI security. At a time when security is often taken for granted or is an afterthought for new technologies, OCF is committed to the highest level of security possible for such low-power limited processing devices. Why is this important? We may not think that hacking a lightbulb is a big deal, but the weakest link in a network is often the biggest target for hackers. Once they’re in, they can cause irreparable damage. Therefore, every device on the network needs to be secured. Not to mention the fact that you probably don’t want someone else to be able to unlock your doors, turn off your security devices or control your medical device or vehicle without your knowledge or consent!
Furthering IoT Standards Development with CableLabs and Kyrio
So where do CableLabs and Kyrio fit in? CableLabs has been in the business of developing standards and certifying products for the cable industry for the past 30 years. Kyrio, as a subsidiary of CableLabs, is reaching out to other industries to help develop new technologies. The combination of experience in standards development, as well as certification testing, makes CableLabs and Kyrio a natural fit with the OCF.
For the past few years, CableLabs and Kyrio have been heavily involved with OCF. Our involvement ranges from acting as a standing member of the board, to chairing the security working group, to participating in various working groups such as certification and interoperability testing. Kyrio is also one of seven authorized test labs (ATLs) in the world and have performed certification testing for several of the first devices to be certified. In addition to OCF certification testing, we also offer development support to manufacturers that need to get their implementations ready for certification.
Avoiding a Turn of the Screw in the Internet of Things (IoT)
The screw is widely believed to have been invented by Archytas of Tarentum around 400 BC. Its original application, not surprisingly, was to press grapes for wine. Over time, other uses evolved such as using it to move water uphill or as a fastener. Skilled artisans would create these screws by hand using chisels and files. By 1800, Henry Maudslay had created the first practical screw cutting lathe and soon companies were making screws and bolts of all sorts and sizes to fasten their machines together. This created a nice vertical market where you could repair your machine as long as you were willing to buy screws from the machine manufacturer.
In 1841, a revolutionary named Joseph Whitworth (I’m guessing he repaired some machines) collected a box of incompatible screws and suggested that everyone should agree on standard sizes. Several of these companies agreed and that led to Home Depot.
The point is that standardization allows companies to focus on innovation in making machines rather than building the little parts that hold them together.
The IoT Evolution Conference, where I spoke recently, is a modern day illustration of the evolution of an industry struggling to move from piece parts to interoperable products. We seem to be somewhere in the middle of that process.
The conference was attended by senior management (48%), IT executives (25%) and C-Level leaders (14%) as well as others in the emerging IoT space. Most of these companies are still trying to understand the big picture of IoT, but are largely building their own vertically integrated systems while they wait for standardization to catch up.
Just as with screws, companies are inventing the pieces and parts they can use to create their products. Gradually, they are getting together with other companies and sharing these piece parts. This leads to the risk that several de facto standards develop – which is to say, a box of incompatible screws.
While these early companies can stake out some markets and provide some useful tools, they can’t scale to the levels of their own aspirations. The “Battle of the Platforms” session at the conference was an interesting case in point. Each competing company came to the stage to show what differentiated its mostly proprietary, vertically-integrated platform from its competitors. We are arguing about screws.
The Internet of Things is quite literally the collection of connected things. At its core, it is not about vertical solutions, specific markets or proprietary things. Like smart phones, it’s a platform for innovation. And, like the Internet itself, it benefits from the mass connectivity and egalitarian nature of speaking the same language. The true innovation sits above the common layer of communications, security and interoperable understanding of devices – or at least it should.
In my opinion, the industry needs to stop arguing about what language is best and start saying something interesting that everybody can understand. It will take a while to get there because there isn’t much consensus at the moment. But there is opportunity. What the Internet of Things needs right now is a translator. There is a need for somebody to stand in the middle of the various ecosystems and sort them out for customers. In order for the IoT to meet its potential, it needs to be invisible to its customers. A doorknob needs to be chosen on its utility and appearance, not on the particular networking protocol it supports. A light bulb should work when it is screwed in, regardless of whether it is installed in the office or at home.
Eventually, standards will ensure a common playing field where innovators can concentrate on their innovations. In the meantime, we need service providers who will abstract the details of the Internet of Things so that customers can get the products they want and have them work the way they want – together.
Evolution is the process of weeding out the poorly-adapted in favor of the well-adapted. Often, this is a bumpy road, but it doesn’t have to be. By coming together on the screws and competing on true innovation, the IoT industry will prove to be amazing. With some careful planning and cooperation, maybe we can avoid screwing it up.
CES 2014: Two Trends Cable Should Watch
Cable television started as a way to get broadcast television to remote locations. It evolved into the consumer technology leader it is today by finding new and non-obvious opportunities and bringing them to consumers. Two of these opportunities were evident at CES 2014.
Internet of Things
The trend you are most likely to hear about on the news is the "Internet of Things." Nobody has a very good definition of this since most companies implementing it are doing it differently. Intel is building chips to support it. Brian Krzanich (CEO) introduced "Edison," a dual-core Quark system-on-a-chip (SoC) computer with built-in WiFi and Bluetooth – on a thumbnail-sized SD card! He called it the "edge device" for the Internet of Things and announced a contest for new technology built with Edison with $1.3 million in prize money and a team to commercialize the best products.
John Chambers (CEO of Cisco) was also very bullish on the Internet of Things, claiming it would be a $19 trillion opportunity. He said 2014 is the transition year into this era. As an example, he brought in the Mayor of Barcelona who has created a budget surplus by networking parking spots and trash collection. With a networked parking system, people can use a smart phone app to drive directly to an open spot. This reduces traffic, saves time and lowers emissions. It also increases meter revenue and creates happy citizens. It also makes ticketing more efficient as officers are routed directly to cars that have overstayed their fare.
Wearables, including watches, fitness wrist bands and smart clothing are a growing segment of the Internet of Things. With these devices, you can get personalized services while adding control over your personal data.
Smart sensors and home automation round out the current offering for internet of things. These "things" are adding new sensor and automation capabilities while becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous.
Astonishingly, one piece of the puzzle is missing. These devices are not communicating in the same language or in any sort of organized ecosystem outside their own little domain. This is an opportunity for cable. Leveraging the core competency of aggregation and an existing presence in the home, cable is well positioned to provide a common ecosystem for their own customers and influence the general development of the Internet of Things.
While our hybrid fiber-coax plants present particular problems connecting to moving vehicles, the automobile space should not be overlooked. As cable has learned from our over-the-top video competitors, owning the infrastructure is not a requirement for providing service.
Virtually all major car companies are providing connections, sensing and automation it their vehicles. Audi, Ford, GM, Kia, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and others were at the show demonstrating driverless cars, self-diagnostics, and connected entertainment. Several are offering software development kits, but it's clear that there is little agreement between manufacturers on software architecture.
Cable has an opportunity in this space to provide its existing services such as car DVR, remote programming of recordings, and content streaming to its customers. Imagine pulling into the garage and having your DVR recordings automatically copied to the car. Kids could watch new episodes of their favorite shows while parents could escape hearing the sound track to the same video a thousand times. You could also program your DVR from the car (perhaps using your voice) so you don’t miss the start of the football game. There are many other possibilities as cable operators look beyond the walls of the home for new market opportunities.
While CES is a strange week-long world in which the limits of technology are stretched, it inevitably delivers a few developments that drive the future. Often, these developments provide clear opportunities for the cable industry, but sometimes it’s not so obvious. The Internet of Things is an opportunity way beyond cable, but cable is well positioned as an aggregator and service provider to bring this opportunity to its customers. Providing cable services to automobiles is a market that can be easily dismissed, but cable began as a way to overcome challenges and provide service where it wasn’t previously available. Cable should consider these opportunities and once again push beyond perceived boundaries into new horizons.
By Clarke Stevens