Too many horses in the IoT race

1 min read

Professor William Webb, chief executive of the Weightless SIG, knows a thing or two about radio. Amongst the positions on his CV are cofounder of white space communications pioneer Neul and chief strategy officer for Motorola.

He told a session during the New Electronics conference at the recent Electronics Design Show that the IoT is simple and comes down to three things: sensors, data communications; and cloud computing. Sensors and cloud computing are no problem, he contended. It’s how to get data from the sensor to the cloud that is holding back the IoT’s development.

Prof Webb pointed out there’s a standard for most wireless applications: Bluetooth, for short range comms; Wi-Fi, for longer range; Freeview, for terrestrial TV and so on. “We expect the same thing to happen in the IoT,” he said, “but it hasn’t happened yet. There are a lot of standards and quasi-standards – far too many – and complete confusion. And there are different standards bodies.”

What we have seen, as an industry, over the last few decades is that proprietary standards are bad. And yet they keep on being developed because there is nothing ‘official’ available.

Bluetooth, for example, succeeded because it was developed before people knew they needed it. “But the IoT genie is out of the bottle,” he said. “There are lots of standards, lots of applications, but we didn’t have a standards body that was visionary enough to have a standard ready.”

He sees at least five alliances – OneM2M, IPSO, LPRA, Wi-SUN and LoRA – another five alliances that set standards – OASIS, OMA, ZigBee, OMG and IoT-GSI – plus a range of standards bodies – ETSI, IETF, IEEE, ITU and 3GPP, as well as Asian and US bodies. Meanwhile, at least 10 generic application layers are available, along with six device protocols, eight networking protocols and a raft of MAC/PHYs.

Designers, to put it bluntly, don’t know which horse to back.

So what is the way forward? He is a proponent of the forum approach, rather than standards bodies. “These are places where consensus emerges; where a single outcome can be taken to a standards body.”

Market analysts predict there will be 50billion devices connected to the IoT within the next few years. Prof Webb believes that won’t happen until a common communications approach is developed.

The problem, however, is that while the industry waits for that consensus to emerge – heads to be banged together, if you like – there will be even more methods of communication and even more market fragmentation.