In search of the best IoT platform

In search of the best IoT platform

On the very day that our Internet of Things R&D team held its first meeting, a major news story broke: A group of tech companies, including Qualcomm and Microsoft, had joined the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) – one of the leading standards groups in the IoT world – effectively forming a new entity called the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF).

On the very day that our Internet of Things R&D team held its first meeting, a major news story broke: A group of tech companies, including Qualcomm and Microsoft, had joined the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) – one of the leading standards groups in the IoT world – effectively forming a new entity called the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF). Its main goal is to “create a set of open specifications and protocols to enable devices from a variety of manufacturers to securely and seamlessly interact with one another”. [1]

The first question that came to mind was... So what? More and more “intelligent” or “smart” devices have been emerging, yet few of them are able to talk to each other. In spite of new standards groups being formed, major players have been promoting their own standards for the smart home: Apple has HomeKit, Google has Brillo and Weave, Samsung has SmartThings - the list goes on and on. The industrial IoT landscape seems blurry as well - no clear leader seems to have emerged as of yet. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around all the competing technologies - and not without reason.

The many layers of things

The main problem with the Internet of Things seems to be the complexity of the communication process. Each of the proposed IoT standards is a stack of technologies spanning multiple layers, rather than a single monolithic solution.

The lowest level is hardware and physical transport. WiFi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee, IEEE 802.15.4 - most of these technologies require a separate chipset to work and, as a result, more resources invested by manufacturers of connected devices.

Next, there is the communication protocol – the actual “language” used by the devices. MQTT, CoAP and D-Bus are just some of the protocols in use by various IoT platforms today. “Classic” Internet protocols, like HTTP and HTTPS, are also being used. The raw protocol is accompanied by additional abstractions – different platforms can define different message formats, even if the underlying protocol is the same.

Network topology is another complicated area – there is a bottomless amount of different setup permutations: Devices can “talk” to each other and/or to the cloud. Communication can be uni-directional (e.g. devices sending sensor data to the cloud) or bi-directional (devices sending data and receiving commands). Additional hubs can be used to aggregate and transform data from groups of devices before sending it to the cloud.

Each of the proposed standards encompasses some or all of the above-mentioned layers, imposing different technology choices, and thus causing headaches not only for device manufacturers, but also end-users who just want their devices to work together. This is a far cry from the smooth interoperability provided by the “regular” Internet we know today.

iot http mqtt coap

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