This Internet of Things Thing Not As Simple As It Looks

Going through my email this morning and following links and checking out blog posts and doing all the other time-sucky things that trade journalists do these days to have even a hope of figuring out what’s going on in the rapidly shifting world of manufacturing (both process and discrete), I discovered a group called oneM2M, which calls itself a “global standards initiative for M2M and the IoT.”

According to the group’s news release, it has made available Release 1, a “set of 10 specifications covering requirements, architecture, API specifications, security solutions and mapping to common industry protocols such as CoAP, MQTT and HTTP. Release 1 also makes use of OMA and Broadband Forum specifications for Device Management capabilities. Release 1 provides sufficient building blocks to enable today’s generation of M2M and IoT applications to interwork with each other.” You can read the entire release here.

“Release 1 utilizes well-proven protocols to allow applications across industry segments to communicate with each other as never before—not only moving M2M forward, but actually enabling the Internet of Things,” says Dr Omar Elloumi, head of M2M and Smart Grid standards at Alcatel-Lucent and oneM2M technical plenary chair. 

 Well, okay then.

 Still not quite sure what standards these were and to what piece of the Internet of Things thing they referred too, I did a little more digging. Turns out oneM2M has been around for a couple of years and has gathered a collection of nearly 200 organizations as members. The complete membership list is here.

According to the press release, oneM2M was “formed in 2012 by seven of the world’s preeminent standards development organizations,” and “consists of thought leaders from a broad range of industries, including industrial manufacturers and suppliers, consumer device manufacturers, component suppliers and telecommunications service providers. oneM2M Partner standards development organizations are ARIB (Japan), ATIS (U.S.), CCSA (China), ETSI (Europe), TIA (U.S.), TTA (Korea) and TTC (Japan). Additional partners contributing to the oneM2M work include: the BBF (Broadband Forum), Continua, HGI (Home Gateway Initiative), the New Generation M2M Consortium ‐ Japan, and OMA (Open Mobile Alliance).

There seems to be a whole telecom, Internet service provider feel to this. I wondered why. A little more research brought me to this white paper from the oneM2M folks, explaining their rationale. Their contention is that M2M and the IoT isn’t really going anywhere until there is a global standardized communication platform to make it happen. Getting such a platform falls under the job description of oneM2M members, and the job is going to be a good deal like herding cats.

For this IoT thing to fulfill its promise, it will have to work across multiple products, industries, communications systems, countries, companies large and small, hardware, software and a whole lot more. And the reason the telecoms and ISPs are interested is because in the end, they’re the ones who are going to have to provide that, if it’s going to happen.

Remember fieldbus wars and what fun they were? We’re still living with the fallout from them and with an uneasy truce over wireless standards just in our little corner of the world. A lot of us are still waiting for the paradise that wireless communication was supposed to bring us, and it's beginning to look like the Internet of Things is going to be a similarly painful journey. See John Rezabek’s February column, “The Internet of Things Paradise May Be Further Away Than It Appears” and the comments following. That will give you a real-life idea of the problem oneM2M is trying to address.

The IoT is rapidly approaching the peak of its hype cycle. It could be a long slog through the Slough of Disillusionment before we get to the other side. As with so many things, the devil is going to be in the details.

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  • <p>Hi Nancy--thanks for your thoughts. While you are correct there are a lot of possible variations of connectivity and attendant standards, it might make sense to step back and look at real examples and what M2M (or IoT, more broadly) offers that industrial settings lack today. For example, let's consider a large commercial building HVAC system. Such a system already has an integrated Building Automation System (BAS). It is very likely that system is wired into everything it is supposed to monitor and control. The communication protocols are likely to be industrial like HART or proprietary.</p> <p>Now let's say that the existing system doesn't have any direct sensors for motor health. The system almost surely keeps track of on-hours, maybe starts and stops, maybe some other data. But we now have these sensors that monitor vibration signatures and can give predictive health information for blower motors, helping to avoid unplanned downtime. We could go to the BAS vendor and request they integrate these things, and they would, and it would cost a lot. If it required software changes (pretty likely) it would cost even more.</p> <p>Alternatively, we could connect these sensors to the existing WLAN and use a browser-based system to track all of our motors. Such a system could be set up in perhaps an hour per motor and begin providing baseline data in days. Keeping in mind these are sense-only nodes--no control, the security risk is low. Assuming the WLAN is properly secured, or could be, we could at least have a demonstration system running very quickly to prove (or disprove) the value of adding these monitors.</p> <p>I realize this is a simple example, and more remote sensing gets into the realm of WWAN, which is the domain of the telecoms. That does get somewhat more complicated but can still be done (and is done) today with off-the-shelf hardware and software.</p>

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