5 min read

The Internet is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. It started its life in the mainframe computers of military and academic organizations before making a jump to personal computers near the turn of the century. A few years later, the Internet made another jump to mobile phones and enabled us to connect to the World Wide Web anywhere and anytime we wanted.

Each time we connect a device to the Internet, the device seems to become smarter and more useful; so, what if we connect every device to the Internet? This is happening, and this is how we have created the Internet of Things, also known as IoT.

With all that said, it’s important to keep in mind that IoT is not simply about having Internet connectivity on our devices. IoT is about a network of devices,or things, that can communicate with each other so that they can be more useful to their user.

You may wonder how does having devices that communicate with each other make them more useful? Well, just imagine, when you set the alarm on your phone to wake you up at 7 AM, it will automatically tell your lamps to turn on 10 minutes after that, and your coffee machine to start brewing right away,or when you exit your house, your networked gate will tell your air conditioner to turn itself off to conserve electricity, or just a simple communication like turning on the heater from your phone on your way home.

That is IoT on a small scale. If you go bigger, you can get grander systems like a bus system that dynamically allocates itself based on how crowded a bus stop is,a fully networked car fleet that can prevent traffic gridlock from happening,or an automated agricultural system that farm owners can control from an app on their phones.

While governments all around the world are trying their best to build their own connected cities, the small scale IoT unfortunately doesn’t really reach the masses. Even a simple house automation system is limited to either the hobbyist or just a single type of device,like the Phillips Hue. One of the reasons behind this problem is the lack of unifying standards between devices, and when every component behaves differently, it can be difficult to create a fully networked system.

(image from http://techstory.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Smart-Home-2.jpg)

Before we talk further about standards, specifically for IoT, we first need to discuss technological standards in general. What are standards? What’s the benefit of having standards in technology?

To put it simply, standards are a set of rules that specify how a certain thing should behave. When a piece of technology follows a standard, all the parties involved know how the device should work and can focus on other, more important things. For example, since all audio jacks on a phone follow the same standards, users can buy headphones of any brand without any worry, and headphone manufacturers can focus on the audio performance of their accessories because they know it will work on every buyer’s phone.

In a world without standards, the users of,say,a Samsung phone would only be able to use a Samsung headphone. What if Samsung’s headphones don’t have the quality you want? What if the only good headphones available cannot be used on Samsung phones? By following a standard, a company can focus only on their phones while another company can focus only on their headphones, each playing through their strength.

(image from https://www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/35jack.jpg)

So now that we better understand standards, what kinds of standards do we need for the Internet of Things?

The most important standard that’s needed in the Internet of Things at the moment is a communication standard—a set of rules for communicating between devices. One part of this standard should be about hardware, for example, what kind of connectivity should be used for communication. Should it be WiFi? Should it be bluetooth? Should wired connection even be considered?

The other part of the needed communication standard should be about software. For example, what messaging protocol should be used for communication? What kind of encryption should be used for the message packets? We should also keep in mind that these connected devices may not have the computing power needed to process heavily encrypted messages.

Another standard that is needed is a development standard. Software developers need a standardized way of developing for connected devices. Right now, all of the IoT hardware platforms, such as Arduino, Tessel, and Intel Edison, have their own development environment. Imagine if an app that could run on an LG phone couldn’t be executed on a Xiaomi phone.

One other standard that we need for the Internet of Things is a standard for security or authentication. How do we ensure that the person accessing a device is the same person accessing another device in the system? Right now, authentication is handled by creating an account on our phone, but a better, independent authentication method is sorely needed in the Internet of Things.

We still have a long way to go before we can fully realize the potential of the Internet of Things. Right now, a lot of big companies are competing with each other, pursuing their own platform for connected devices. I believe, however, the way for IoT to move forward is for these companies to start collaborating and setting standards that will define the future of Internet of Things.

About the Author

Raka Mahesa is a game developer at Chocoarts (http://chocoarts.com/) who is interested in digital technology in general. Outside of work hours, he likes to work on his own projects, with Corridoom VR being his latest released game. Healso regularly tweets from @legacy99.


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