The Internet of Things Looks more like an Internet of Fragments
I was at Mobile World Congress last week, and, as always, came home with my head abuzz and sore legs (from shuttling between Hall 1 and Hall 8, and also trying to find that perfect restaurant in the Gothic Quarter). So many cool projects and technologies, so little time!
IoT seemed to be on everyone's lips – from niche manufacturers to major integrators to carriers. As I cruised the halls, I noticed two things. First - most of the IoT discussion was centered around extremely niche applications. Second - I found few compelling end-to-end stories that could easily be re-used. Parking meters, solar, mobile geo aware advertising, and many others all fell into one or both of these categories.
The beauty of the Internet is that it is open. One can get data from a variety of sources to a variety of consumers to enable the creation of applications by many developers. This is not what we are seeing today. The applications seem to be cobbled together, not integrated along open interface lines.
The sensor manufacturers talk to proprietary gateways, which expose the data through proprietary APIs. These are consumed through fairly purpose-built storage back ends, and exposed through purpose-built apps. The application architectures seem to be monolithic and closed, not intended to provide much public access to the data. Sure, using the app I can find a parking spot... but it’s not like the solutions are being designed to allow stream access to the feeds to third party developers to innovate the way the Internet does (…and allow someone to create the next parking AirBnB for example).
So we have a very fragmented landscape. It’s full of promise, yet currently populated by point solutions not designed to integrate.
So how do we move forward? I think two things are necessary – open access to the stream of the sensors and open access to the historical data. This needs to be powered by both public and private initiatives, just as the Internet was originally designed to be. This access may be free or monetized, or sponsored or whatever – but it just needs to be available.
Security is going to be a huge factor here – not in access prevention, but in access facilitation and creating a flexible multi-tenant environment. It’s about ensuring that we can have authorization, authentication and accounting for both the users and the veracity of data. That will be huge.
Today, the IoT landscape is one of fragmented applications using smart devices to provide point solutions that are often vendor-locked and don't facilitate secure interoperability. For IoT to reach its potential, we must focus on making sure that we keep it as open as possible, facilitating creativity through open access and well-documented secure and interoperable integration points.