IoT in Smart Cities and Buildings is still very much in the early stage, evident when you take a step back and look at what has been launched. The technology is in rapid development with a plethora of standards, and incompatible proprietary products pushed to the market, like in the early days of computers when every supplier had their proprietary operating system and applications, that only worked on their hardware. You can find a lot of exciting and useful services, but most often they are closed tailor-made one-off systems or silos. Something developed for a specific customer, for a specific use, from the sensors to the user app.
As the market matures and solutions get commoditized, customers begin to look increasingly for simple cost-efficient turnkey solutions to implement technologies that maybe not are so “cool and flashy” but generates value like reducing energy consumption and water usage. The expected exponential adoption of IoT solutions comes from focusing on solving business challenges like cost reduction and increased productivity and by presenting technology that enables the development of open competitive markets, not locks into closed verticals.
With the invention of a standardized internet, the IT industry found the base for innovation, exponential growth, and disruptive change. This reduction of complexity was the key to developing the thriving ecosystems of large and small compatible specialized suppliers. Every computer speaks “Internet”, all made up of a bunch of standards.
This is why Internet of Things is not Internet
There is not one communication standard that rules them all, and probably never will be. We will for the foreseeable future have many standards because of different needs, use cases, and physics. The main dividers are energy consumption, bandwidth, and computing power.
Image created by Dan Ledger
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive list of every protocol and standard used within IoT
- Can the sensor have an external power source, or does it have to rely on an internal battery? How long will the battery last, and what maintenance costs will that generate?
- How sophisticated is the sensor? How much local data processing, buffering, and decision making?
- How often will the sensor communicate? How much data will it transmit? How critical is the data? Real-time need or acceptable delays? Security requirements? What networks are available? What carrier? Coverage in urban and rural areas? At what cost?
As the market matures, we will see convergence and marginalization of technologies, but there will still be plenty to choose from, from traditional cellular, like 5G, to long-range solutions like LoRa, NB-IoT and Sigfox, and mesh networks for high-density deployments, like Wifi Mesh or Bluetooth Mesh. These technologies have different technical characteristics, each with its specific advantages best suited for different use cases and ecosystems.
In the long run, 5G promises to provide the technical capabilities necessary to meet most of the requirements of IoT for extensive coverage and ultra-high density and to provide the business flexibility for operators to offer customized SLAs for different use cases. However, all at a considerable cost. Operators must build entirely new infrastructure, with new antennas, expanded fiber-optic networks, and new transmission towers. There are estimates that the 5G network requires €500 billion in investment in Europe alone, costs that translate into subscription fees.
Even Ericsson believes that only 1.5 billion of the 18 billion IoT devices it reckons will be connected in 2022 will rely on cellular networks.
Low-power wide-area technologies, such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), Sigfox and LoRa, offer promising alternatives, with benefits such as the low power consumption of IoT devices, low module cost and maintenance, high building penetration, and the ability to transmit data over long distances.
Rather than competing with each other, these technologies are highly complementary. For instance, long-range technologies like NB-IoT or LoRa can provide better backbone connectivity for mesh networks to reach wider areas.
IoT services need technology neutral connectivity
IoT services need technology neutral connectivity and sensors to become an open competitive market, a commodity.
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The computer industry has already solved this issue. It’s called technology abstractions. An example of this is the simplicity of adding a new printer from any supplier to your PC. With the printer comes a driver that installs in the operating system that translates the document into the specific instructions that the printer understands. Or, in a smartphone, you can add any camera app that controls the camera module independent on who delivers the module to the smartphone manufacturer. Or, what smartphone brand you are using, for that matter.
With this kind of technology abstraction, the door opens to anyone developing useful IoT services without the dependence on what underlying IoT technology is being used.
However, developing this abstraction layer is no simple task. Most technologies work very differently, talk different languages (protocols), have different device management, have different levels and methods of security, and so on. It’s key to somehow take all these differences and convert those into something transparent and easy to use for service developers.
A good starting point is to borrow ideas and principles from other best-in-class solutions. At Sensative, we have many years of experience from the mobile industry and the Android operating system, so for us, it came naturally to look upon the Smart City or Smart Building as a colossal smartphone, and IoT as the operating system. With that approach, we have developed Yggio as the integration platform for anything IoT, or, as we call it here, the technology abstraction layer.
- Android is based on open-source Linux. Yggio is based on open-source FIWARE.
- Android has the HAL – Hardware Abstraction Layer. Yggio has Lens translation module.
- Android has the Application Framework. Yggio ha the open API NGSIv2 from FIWARE.
- In the same way that anyone can develop an app and execute them on any Android phone, any IoT services developed for one
- Yggio customer can be sold to and executed on any other Yggio installation.
- … and more