When someone says “Internet of Things,” the public tends to think of interconnected Apple watches and smart thermostats…and maybe a lot of hype (see Gartner’s Hype Cycle, 2014). But the IoT is much more…it’s about intelligent, adaptive sensors, actuators, and other devices that provide a digital interface for our analog world, and connect streams of digitized data from these devices to a vast array of networks. These networks then communicate with back-end services, computing ecosystems, even social networks.
The numbers are astounding. We are rapidly moving from thousands to millions to billions of smart, connected devices that seamlessly integrate and interoperate. Vertical market opportunities that are showing early growth are consumer goods, eHealth, transportation, energy, and industrial automation.
The beauty of this hot new market opportunity is that the IoT takes advantage of existing global telecom systems and data protocols (e.g. TCP/IP, wi-fi) to provide limitless scalability.
Reducing Power Consumption
But the IoT isn’t without its’ challenges. Power, for instance. Devices need to become more energy efficient as many will run on batteries. Joe Weinman, Chair of IEEE’s Intercloud Testbed Initiative states that battery power needs to be either extended or complemented, possibly by generating power through piezoelectricity based on microscopic vibrations in the environment. In addition, the networks need efficient, low-latency protocols as architectures that support more ubiquitous networking, such as mesh technologies. Nanotechnology also plays a role as new technologies deliver increased efficiencies in price/power/performance in IoT infrastructures.
Given the tremendous number of devices, does the IoT need its own network? Industry experts are debating the issue. Many say that the three big wireless technologies – cellular wide area networks, wi-fi local area networks, and Bluetooth smart personal area networks – will suffice. According to Forbes:
While existing infrastructure is sufficient in some nations, like South Korea, where high-speed broadband access is the norm across the country, high-speed access is not yet pervasive outside major U.S. cities. Although ranked 10th in the world for high Internet speeds, “we aren’t even at the point where every city has good Internet,” IEEE’s George K. Thiruvathukal points out. Most U.S. cities lack fiber-optic Internet access and, average connection speeds overall in the U.S. are 10 MB per second (Mbps). South Korea’s average connection speed is 21.9 Mbps.
The major telecom operators focus their services on cell-based networks to facilitate high data rate applications. But those are too expensive and demand too much energy for the majority of IoT applications. Most IoT devices (also known as M2M or machine-to-machine devices) aren’t bandwidth hogs; they only need enough capacity to periodically send small amounts of data. LPWAN (low power, wide area networks) are “unapologetically slow.” These networks are based on a new protocol that taps the unlicensed wireless spectrum of the industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) radio band (such as the 900MHz band in the U.S.). Speeds are measured in the hundreds of bits per second or less and they can coexist with cellular nets. They can also be used as backup for cellular networks to keep devices connected when broadband just won’t reach.
According to Stephen Lawson, writing in Computerworld, “One advantage of the low data rates on LPWANs is that they don’t require as many base stations as cell networks do. With that factor and unlicensed frequencies, the cost of connecting can be dramatically lower. Enterprises buying connectivity for many devices may pay as little as $1 per connection, per year.”
These slower data rates also have implications for chip technology. Soon we won’t need vast amounts of calculations per second. Sending a temperature measurement once a second or once a minute from a remote sensor requires far fewer instructions than rendering a complicated, 3D CAD drawing.
LPWAN provider Senet uses an RF-based solution to transmit and receive data to and from sensors and controllers over long distances at very low costs. “We can connect sensors over distances of more than 100 km (62 miles) in favorable environments with sensors that can be powered over 10 years with AA batteries. In addition, it’s highly secure, using AES128 keys, making communication tampering and eavesdropping virtually impossible,” said George Dannecker, CEO, Senet.
Cliff Ortmeyer, Newark element14, provides an overview in EBN of the biggest IoT adoption issues that need to be resolved. For instance, several competing IoT architecture standards have emerged, including Google’s Physical Web, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), the Open Interconnected Consortium, and Thread, a new IP-based wireless networking protocol pulling together support from Google, Samsung, ARM, and Freescale Semiconductor.
Every device that connects to the Internet requires its own unique numerical label – an IP address. As it stands, the vast majority of these IP addresses run on a fourth generation version of the Internet Protocol known as IPv4. Unfortunately, that limits us to about 4.3 billion unique addresses. We’re already way over capacity and using workarounds like Network Address Translation (NAT) to provide the illusion of more space. IPv6 is a 128-bit protocol that offers 340 unidecillion addresses (34 plus 37 zero’s)!
In the meantime, developers are forging ahead, developing new technologies that will help the IoT become a self-sustaining network of everyday objects that provides a higher collective value than the individual objects.
• High frequency circuit materials deliver the performance needed by M2M sensors, wireless base stations, satellite antennas, and network servers and storage.
• High temperature silicone materials are ideal as gaskets and seals, cushions, and thermal and acoustic insulation in demanding conditions.
• Laminated multilayer busbars provide efficient and compact connections for propulsion, auxiliary, and other IGBT based converters in transportation systems.