Internet Of Things In Danger Of Fragmentation

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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The industry still hasn’t decided how it will connect 50 billion “things” to the Internet by 2020

Experts have warned that the deployment of Internet of Things could be held back by too many competing standards.

Although the market is slowly embracing the idea of networked homes and smart cities, fragmentation of the ecosystem is likely to serve as an obstacle to wider adoption, speakers at the annual Future of Wireless conference in Cambridge said.

Some of the technologies currently used for Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication include low energy versions of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as mobile networks, white space radio, and a number of proprietary wireless standards. The confusion means that any of these could grow to dominate the emerging market.

Everything to play for

The term Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a collection of technologies that introduce connectivity into everyday devices and appliances, also referred to as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Widely publicised research by Ericsson suggests that the number of such devices will reach 50 billion by 2020. However, the industry is still divided as to how exactly this will be achieved.

WirelessThe price and power consumption of the existing IoT chips was approaching a point where it would be ready for mass adoption, said Bill McFarland, VP of Technology at Qualcomm, but too many incompatible technological solutions remain on the market.

Already existing IoT solutions rely on a long list of network standards including Bluetooth LE (Low Energy), Wi-FI 802.11ah, proprietary Z-Wave and ZigBee, Weightless, cellular and even HomePlug, which supports networking over existing home electrical wiring. All of these offer different advantages – for example, solutions based on cellular connectivity have superior range, 802.11ah maintains Wi-Fi network penetration while lowering its power requirements, and Weightless repurposes wasted White Space spectrum.

McFarland predicted that all of these IoT standards will survive for the next five years, but eventually, this number will have to go down. He said this is likely to be achieved when one of the established technology players like Apple or Samsung chooses a single technology.

Stuart Orr, managing director for the communications industry at Accenture, said that companies which will be successful in implementing IoT will “design for analytics.” He noted that billions of networked devices will produce previously unheard-of amounts of data, and this requires consideration from both the hardware engineers and the analytics industry.

Siegmund Redl, VP and GM of corporate marketing for Europe at chip manufacturer MediaTek, also warned against a fragmented ecosystem. He questioned whether the industry could control, manage, update and replace 50 billion devices. However, he sees the divisions more positively: the IoT market offers multiple verticals, so segmentation, not fragmentation would be a key success factor.

During his presentation, McFarland picked HomePlug, Wi-Fi 802.11ah and Bluetooth LE as the most likely competitors for IoT supremacy. But he dismissed Weightless, the M2M communications standard developed in Cambridge and managed by the Weightless SIG.

william webb neul whte space weightlessWeightless way forward?

Not surprisingly, William Webb (pictured), CEO of the Weightless SIG and co-founder of Neul, the first firm to make Weightless chips, was more positive about prospects for Weightless, but he acknowledged the strength of the other players: “We know Qualcomm have very strong interest in both LTE and Wi-Fi, that’s where their competence lies. So they are clearly going to be most interested in seeing if they can stretch either of those two technologies into Machine-to-Machine,” he told TechWeekEurope. “We heard from them that Wi-Fi is their preference, and that’s no surprise, that’s their skill set.”

“And then we heard from MediaTek, who are a company that makes chips for cellular, so clearly they are going to be very interested in trying to expand cellular into M2M.”

“We did also hear from Accenture this morning, who said they were very keen on the idea of using TV White Space spectrum, and Weightless is the only M2M technology that does that. So I think that’s a vote of confidence from Accenture.”

“It just shows that there is still no certainty as to which technology will dominate Machine-to-Machine, there are a number of contenders. And the choice really seems to be: do you try to stretch the existing technology like cellular or Wi-Fi, or do you come up with something new? As you can imagine, my viewpoint is it’s a stretch too far for the existing technologies, and with a market this big, it’s better to design something from scratch and get it right.”

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