The Telecommunications Industry Alliance, the folks responsible for RS-485 and other standards, the OPC Foundation and ILS Technology released the TR50 machine-to-machine (M2M) protocol standards series, TR-50 TIA 4940.020, "Smart Device Communications; Protocol Aspects; Introduction," and TR-50 TIA 4940.000, "Smart Device Communications; List of Parts," at the ARC Forum in February. TR-50's goal is to develop a smart device communications framework that can operate over different underlying transport networks, such as wireless and wired, which can be adapted to a given transport network by means of an adaptation/convergence layer.
When complete, the full suite of standards will define the requirements for communications pertaining to the access-agnostic monitoring and bi-directional communication of events and information between smart devices and other devices, applications or networks across the M2M environment. The TR-50.1 framework makes its functionality available to applications through a well-defined application programming interface (API) that is agnostic to the vertical application/industry domains.
The TR-50.1 system architecture developed is agnostic to the application, while reflecting its requirements, including information models, description and definitions of relationships between internal and external elements, data and control flow diagrams, and definition of the application program, program interface as part of the state diagrams and stage-2 descriptions. In other words, it is intelligent enough to seamlessly navigate or tunnel through a variety of protocols without using gateways or other intervention by the end user. Stage-3 descriptions will include XML schema, and offer a uniform way to present the data to a variety of programs, and will interface without added manipulation other than appearance.
The current documents provide reference architecture, describing functional elements and their interconnection, while the annexes provide use cases and demonstrate the applicability of the reference architecture to them.
TR-50.1 incorporates the following capabilities in its standard:
Security (e.g., data content, authentication, signaling) is managed internally by configuration of networks and associated firewalls. Once outside the facility boundaries, connections into or through the cloud security are based on https in much the same way as purchases made over the Internet.
To prevent limitations on the number of points that can be managed, end-to-end performance and scalability of equipment and networks is included.
The most interesting and helpful aspect is device management, including discovery and identity. I was originally skeptical about this, but the ILS people at the ARC conference demonstrated how it worked by connecting to machines in their facility in Florida and, with the auto-discovery capabilities built into the standard, finding devices and accessing associated device memory. The actual mapping of parameters from one machine to another was no different than configuring an OPC interface or Modbus register.
Because the testing committee has representatives from a "Who's Who" of network providers contributing to the four standards, there is a high probability that it will be supported in the broader communications market, and thus find its way into the automation and control sector.
Once again, the line between the corporate or business environment and the automation zone is becoming grayer, and the slow but steady move towards machine-to-machine conversation outside the work cell continues. I believe the biggest challenge this group will face in moving into the process automation sector is our reluctance to move data outside the control domain. Sceptics remain, but this is one more step forward.