Early Internet of Things Standards Efforts Focus on Mobility
This is the final post of a three-part series on the Internet of Things (IoT). The first post looked at the role standards will play. The second post focused on the groups and consortia working to create standards and detailed use cases for the platform. This post will look at the status of standards, and how mobility is one area where progress is underway.
It is impossible to predict with any confidence whether effective standards will be implemented on the IoT. The standards themselves are not the problem. Creating them seems to be a fairly routine task for people who do this sort of thing for a living. The bigger issue is whether there is a smooth way to implement them in the real world of vendor politics and quickly moving technology. Things likely will get more fractious before they calm down.
The IoT is sprawling, immature, and fluidly changing. And two things are as true in the IoT as they were in any previous upheaval: The technology is ahead of laborious and exacting efforts to create standards, and there is high level of competition among powerful groups which, for one reason or another, favor a particular approach.
There really are two closely linked, but separate, questions. The first involves the mechanics of upgrading elements that are in the field as standards emerge and change. Vendors, carriers, service providers, and enterprises have seen this movie several times during the past couple of decades and know how to handle uncertainty. This wealth of experience makes it likely that sensors and other equipment is being designed in a way that readily can be tweaked via firmware upgrades as standards emerge and change.
A more important question is whether the creation of the standards that will be loaded on these devices will be a smooth or contentious process.
A key test is at hand. In September, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) – the organization that is central to cellular standards – agreed upon a “work item” on a low power radio specification that would facilitate the use of LTE by the IoT. This is important because it will enable LTE-based IoT sensors and other devices to remain active for years on a single battery. Light Reading suggests that the proposed standard has elements of two candidate standards, NB-LTE Narrow-Band Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE) and Cellular IoT (CIoT).
Well in advance of a standard, chipsets enabling the use of LTE for the IoT are on their way. How the industry deals with these pre-standard chipsets and the transition into a subsequent standards-based landscape will go a long way toward demonstrating whether the process will be statesmanlike or acrimonious.
It still is very early in the game. The attention being paid to standards by so many organizations is a good thing – even though they are doing what companies do: Trying to bend the arc of development in their direction. That’s fine – it’s how the system works. The byproduct of that approach, however, is that the process is unlikely to be smooth.
There is no question that standards on the IoT are extraordinarily important. The difference between previous technical revolutions and this one is that the IoT – unlike the internet, for instance – is sneaking up on nobody. Thus, standards will come -- and the IoT will be okay until they arrive.