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Analyst Angle: Open standards could drive IoT in smart cities

The growth of the “internet of things” as it relates to the emergence and development of smart cities can take one of two directions. It can proceed upon the current fragmented path. Or, it can proceed on a more efficient and beneficial a standardized approach. According to a white paper released by InterDigital, open standards in IoT deployments would accelerate growth in smart cities by 27% and reduce deployment costs by 30%.

 Standards for the IoT fall broadly into two areas:

  • Downward-facing standards that establish connectivity with devices. These include standards such as Bluetooth LE.
  • Upward-facing standards that provide common application interfaces up to end users and application developers. These include standards such as OneM2MTM2.

Underlying all of these there are often widely used protocols such as IPv6 and RESTful programming principles. In some cases, there are variants of these for IoT such as 6LowPAN (simplified IPv6) and CoAP (simplified TCP/IP connectivity). In addition, there are standards for specific verticals such as the Continua standard for health care, which seeks to simplify the connectivity of health care devices and the management of information from them.

The impact of open standards is so dramatic because IoT, as it stands today, is characterized by multiple competing technologies and platforms that touch upon a wide range of vertical and horizontal segments in an ever-expanding marketplace. The lack of standardization has caused some analysts to describe IoT as the “subnet of things” or the “internet of silos.” The standardization of the technologies and platforms that make up IoT would naturally result in substantial efficiencies.

“A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation, and services and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.”

Why standardization is so important for smart cities

It’s not that standards don’t exist. The problem is there are so many of them and they are not effectively aligned. Not all of the standards cover the same areas. Consequently, they are not all competing standards from which it is possible to choose just one. Rather, they have been developed from the bottom up by companies and projects that considered it to be beneficial to work together. This means there are both areas of overlap between standards and gaps where the standards say nothing at all.

There are many drivers for the adoption of aligned standards in IoT for smart cities:

  • Standards allow data to be shared between departments and systems which may have developed in isolation from each other.
  • Standards allow software and tools that have been developed in other cities to be used without the need for redevelopment.
  • Standards allow cities to use their data in conjunction with off-the-shelf components, including those developed for other kinds of organizations.
  • Standards allow cities to benchmark and compare themselves to other cities and organizations in terms of processes and outcomes.
  • Standards allow the exchange of data with external entities (such as third-party application developers), which in turn can support the creation of innovative business and financing models such as data marketplaces and even an “urban apps store.”
  • Standards consolidate and shape the market for third-party developers by ensuring that there is a sustainable market for their activities.

While these drivers powerful, they also act as barriers to standardization. Take into consideration traffic signaling or street lighting. It would take a huge investment to standardize legacy systems such as these.

Conclusions and recommendations for smart cities

Interdigital made the following conclusions and recommendations regarding the use of IoT standards in smart cities:

  • Standardization, instead of competition, is vital for the success of smart cities. The benefits of interoperability, replicability, re-use and a more competitive market outweigh any “first mover advantage.”
  • Compared to a non-standardized scenario, a standardized approach for developing smart cities would lead to a 27% uplift in the number of connected devices deployed across a range of 21 smart city applications analyzed in the white paper.
  • Compared to a non-standardized scenario, the cost to cities of deploying those 21 applications would be reduced by 30%. This reduction is the result of increased competition, interoperability and reduced systems integration, and application development costs.
  • There are “first mover advantages” to be gained from early deployments of IoT technology, but these must be offset against the wider benefits from using a standards-based approach. This is particularly the case where the deployment touches more than one entity, or system, or vertical industry sector.
  • The formal top-down standards-setting methodology pursued by the existing global standards-development organizations is too slow for the quickening rise of activity around smart cities. However, the developed standards will ultimately be useful in consolidating and ratifying the standardized interfaces developed at lower levels by industry bodies and alliances.
  • In the interim these industry bodies and alliances must redouble their coordination efforts so as to ensure the de facto standards, APIs and software development kits they create complement each other and can be used together. As a minimum requirement, it is incumbent on them to determine whether there is an existing and practicable standard in existence before creating another one.

The importance of carrier grade Wi-Fi

Although it is not discussed in the white paper, IoT in smart cities can’t be accomplished without carrier-grade Wi-Fi deployed throughout the city. Even though many devices and systems can certainly communicate through technology such as Bluetooth or near field communication, the deployment of a robust and reliable Wi-Fi infrastructure is what enables smart cities to realize the benefits and savings associated with standardizing the IoT.

Adlane Fellah, is managing director of WiFi360. Prior to founding the company, the only content marketing agency serving the Wi-Fi industry, Fellah was the founder of Maravedis, a leading analyst firm in the broadband wireless industry. He has authored various landmark reports on LTE, 4G, WiMAX, broadband wireless and voice over IP. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as Telephony Magazine, 4G & WiMAX Trends, Fierce Wireless and WiMAX.com, to name a few. Fellah has been a member of the program advisory board for the 4G World conference since 2004 and an active member of the World Communications Association International and the European Broadband Wireless Association. Prior to founding Maravedis, Fellah held various positions at Harris Corp. in charge of market intelligence and business development. Fellah is passionate about best practices of marketing and technology.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Analyst Angle. We’ve collected a group of the industry’s leading analysts to give their outlook on the hot topics in the wireless industry.

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