Does the Internet of Things Need a Standardized Communication Architecture?

We may have to wait five or more years for the industry to reach a consensus on standards. Could the smart use of the right types of software bring us to a viable IoT communication architecture sooner?
By Arup Barat
Nov 07, 2016

The true power of the Internet of Things is its far-reaching foundation—the more devices we connect, the more powerful our data and insights will be. Could sensors on a tractor and harvester help a refrigerated truck fleet optimize its operation? It may not seem like there's any overlap now, but who knows where data could be useful in the future? One big problem the IoT faces is the interoperability of data-collecting devices made by different vendors with various communication capabilities and requirements. The McKinsey Global Institute cited interoperability as the difference between the IoT being a $7 trillion market and a $11.1 trillion market by 2025—that's a $4 trillion problem!

For the IoT to continue to grow, there is no doubt that we need devices and systems to work together seamlessly. But do we need standards to shepherd us there? Or is there another free-market solution? Let's look at where things stand now, and what some possible solutions might be. First, let's consider the complex communications stack that devices use and the different options that are available:

When IoT technologies that use these various layers and combinations are combined, it is inevitable that communication between devices will be misunderstood. For example, it is very likely that smart-home users could have a connected thermostat from one manufacturer that cannot interact with a light bulb from another, due to one using Wi-Fi and the other ZigBee, one transporting data with MQTT and the other HTTP, or each requiring data to go through separate proprietary clouds. Consumers locking themselves into a single ecosystem could provide a short-term solution to this problem, but not one that would solve the industry's issues in the long term.

The same concerns are relevant at the enterprise level as well. Take a farm that bought soil moisture sensors several years ago and now wants to leverage those sensors' data together with a brand-new smart tractor. Without unified communication standards, doing so would require a significant amount of engineering work to integrate the two systems, which is not what farmers are familiar with and not what they bought into. You can see that this is a pretty tangled web that we're trying to unravel to reach a seamlessly connected future.

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