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Interoperability standards are key to smart cities

Connecthings CEO: Smart cities can learn lesson from missteps of smart home market

Can you believe that next year marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the first iPhone? It wasn’t the first smartphone (a moment of silence, please, for devices like the Palm Treo and the Motorola Q). But the iPhone’s arrival heralded the beginning of the internet of things (IoT) era that is transforming our lives and even our cities. Municipalities worldwide are embedding internet-connected sensors in everything from buildings to bus stops that collect and transmit streams of data to IoT devices that automatically manage government assets, ease traffic congestion, reduce energy waste and pollution, connect businesses with customers, and improve residents’ quality of life. But to become truly “smart,” cities must learn from the missteps of the smart home market, where a lack of device interoperability standards and multiple wireless communications protocols are frustrating consumers and slowing adoption rates.

At first, that may come off as hyperbole. After all, the demand for connected home products is soaring, and industry watchers don’t expect that trend to slow anytime soon. For example, Markets and Markets recently released a report that predicts the smart home market will grow from $46.97 billion last year to $121.73 billion by 2022. But dig a little deeper into the internet’s archives, and you’ll find that forecasters have been making similar predictions for years now – and those predictions have largely fallen short.

There are a handful of reasons, including the high costs of connected products. Another is the sense of confusion the manufacturers are creating among their customers due to the lack of a universal interoperability standard. If you’ve installed a smart thermostat, window shades, and whole home audio system in your house, chances are you need to use dedicated remotes or mobile apps for each one.

To make matters even more confusing, there are a number of different communications protocols, such as Z-Wave, ZigBee, IEEE 802.15.4, and 6LoWPAN – and not all are able to connect with the others.

The vision of a smart home is one where all devices communicate with one another to make your life easier – your refrigerator doesn’t just alert you when you’re low on milk while you’re on your commute home. It’s connected to one network that also instructs your oven to start cooking dinner, lowers smart window shades, turn on the lights, and starts streaming music to your living room.  That vision cannot be realized without requiring manufacturers to adopt open interoperability standards.

Analysts’ predictions for the IoT adoption among cities are just as optimistic as they are for the smart home market. But they also warn that this issue of interoperability also threatens to derail smart city initiatives. In fact, IoT and M2M market research firm Machina Research reports that alone could make smart cities projects 30 percent more expensive to deploy.

That means city authorities and their technology partners may waste $341 billion by 2025 if they adopt a fragmented versus standardized approach to IoT solution deployment. Machina adds that using non-standardized solutions will drive global implementation costs for smart cities projects to $1.12 trillion over that time period.

The report also contains good news: leveraging standardized solutions would cut that cost to $781 billion. So the questions for municipal officials and ICT professionals becomes, “how can we ensure the technologies we’re deploying can communicate with one another?”

First, join the effort led by a number of technology industry associations and organizations such as the Smart Cities Council working to create unified standards that ensure products from various manufacturers based on different operating systems and hardware platforms are interoperable protocols. Outline common specifications for product development that enables connectivity among devices irrespective of the form factor, operating system, manufacturer or service provider.

Also, invest in building open evolutive architecture systems that enable city planners to integrate devices and applications today and in the future. Use mobile communications and information-sharing technologies to create interactive beacons throughout the city. Train stations, bus stops, airports, street lights and even parking spaces become part of a global, open connected IoT network that enables government agencies, local businesses and residents to interact and share information in real-time and in the most contextual way.


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