IoT World and MTOM & Embedded Systems conferences: showing the way for tomorrow’s IoT
Freshly back from the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles conference park, which is currently hosting the « IoT World » and « MToM & Embedded Systems » events, I wanted to share a bit of this experience and summarize some insights about current Internet-Of-Things challenges and solutions.
Although my intention was initially to visit the IoT World event, I quickly realized that there were other interesting events going by, such as the MToM & Embedded Systems event. Both were actually covering similar topics, such as IoT connectivity protocols, energy consumption concerns, importance of Cloud & Big Data, security and developer-centric platforms. As such, these events were quite technical and not that much end-user-oriented, which was fine for me; but people expecting a follow-up of the CES, with drones flying around, may have been disappointed!
The conferences and workshops which I attended during the first day were:
- « Concevoir des produits et services connectés à valeur ajoutée, rapidement et sans gros investissement : c’est possible ! » (IoT World) > a conference about quickly enabling IoT with strong added-value and low costs
- « Architecture de la plate-forme AWS IoT » (IoT World) > a presentation of the AWS IoT platform
- « Protocoles de communication et évolution de leur utilisation dans le contexte de l’IoT et du MtoM » (MToM & Embedded Systems) > an overview and comparison of existing M2M transport protocols
- « Comment et en quoi le cloud est devenu incontournable dans la mise en œuvre des objets connectés/communicants » (MToM & Embedded Systems) > a discussion about the importance of Cloud platforms for IoT
- « Cognitif : la nouvelle ère de l’IoT » (IoT World) > a presentation of IBM Bluemix
- « Sécurité des IoT : est-il envisageable de chiffrer de bout en bout ? Et qui doit détenir les clés ? » (IoT World) : a talk about how secure an IoT implementation should be.
Hereafter some of the insights that were made available during these sessions.
IoT is currently a matter of both customer-centricity AND technology-pushing
Every technical solution should be effectively addressing an identified functional need, in a profitable and desirable way: that’s the essence of Design Thinking. Being a technical concept, the Internet-Of-Things should also be concerned by this essential principle. Therefore some speakers insisted in the importance of finding the right use cases, before investing in IoT. However other speakers also made a valid statement, when insisting in the necessity of making IoT more mature before going through the precise use cases. The rationale is that the success of IoT and the upcoming of billions of connected objects, will only happen when there will be large networks to connect to, cheap hardware to build with, and some more protocol standardization. R&D and technology investments are still required for IoT to expand even further.
IoT means choosing a connectivity / energy consumption / payload strategy
For years now, there have been multiple players providing various kinds of wired and wireless protocols to connect objects in the M2M and IoT playgrounds. The most recent players, and the ones which are currently gaining the biggest traction, are LPWA technologies LoRa and Sygfox. While existing transport networks such as cellular networks, Wi-Fi or ZigBee would either provide long-range connectivity OR low-energy-consumption, but not both, these two new radio-based technologies make possible to send payloads over long distances while saving a lot of energy. The counterpart: such payloads need to be very small, for example a temperature value or an ON/OFF command. Making the choice of the proper connectivity / energy consumption / payload strategy will therefore depend on your customer use case, there is still no “protocol to rule them all”.
IoT requires Cloud-based platforms to provide added-value to all the gathered data
Basically, the message is “no IoT without Cloud solutions”. Speakers from Amazon and IBM, while presenting their own solutions (respectively AWS IoT and IBM Watson), explained how important these solutions were for IoT in order to connect objects and systems altogether (using various protocols such as HTTP or MQTT), to visualize and analyse the collected data, to trigger actions and enabling opportunities depending on the contents of the payload, etc.
IoT works better with developer-centricity and easy-to-use SDKs
In order to provide easy access to these Cloud-based platforms, vendors provide all kinds of developer-centric tools. The main entry point to vendor ecosystems often consists in off-the-shelf SDKs supporting various stacks. As such, the NodeJS stack seems to currently have a lot of traction as it is easy to run in multiple environments.
And of course, IoT needs end-to-end security
Last but not least, IoT globally needs security. There are different approaches here, for example the Sigfox approach which does not enable encryption by default at the transport network level. But although encryption is not always easy to perform on some devices and consumes some precious battery life, it should be considered in most use cases. As many other layers are involved besides the devices, global encryption is difficult to ensure properly, but should be considered a strong requirement to be designed early and implemented at some point of the build process.
The announced IoT world and its billions of connected devices is not here yet but is on its way. There are ongoing technology changes, discussions about best practices, and customer evangelisations about use cases. And while the landscape is starting to focus around LPWA technologies and Cloud-based platforms, the real revolution is still to come with the decrease of hardware costs and the improvement of device battery lives.