Highlights of Internet of Things (IoT) Conferences in Silicon Valley

By Alan J Weissberger - IEEE Sr. Life Member and GCN NA Correspondent, USA

With extraordinary potential, impact, and influence, the Internet of Things (IoT) promises to be a big revenue generator and improve efficiencies for many different industries and companies. Gartner Group has forecast “$1.9 trillion value-add IoT revenue across industry sectors in 2020.” Also from Gartner: “IoT endpoints will grow at a 31.7 percent CAGR from 2013 through 2020, reaching an installed base of 20.8 billion units.”

While IoT is one of the hottest tech topics trending now, it is marked by tremendous hype, confusion, and chaos. This article reviews three recent IoT conferences in Santa Clara, CA (the center of Silicon Valley) that were aimed at cutting though the confusion, enumerating the challenges and opportunities, and discussing the current status of the IoT.

2016 IEEE Tech Industry Summit – June 6-7, 2016

areas that are of concern to various industries, such as: power/ energy, aviation/transportation, automotive, industrial control, medical, and wearables.

Keynote speakers included Ken Caviasca from Intel, who discussed IoT Technologies, and Phil Kelly, Chief Scientist at Energous, who delivered a keynote on IoT Wearables. Key use cases, adoption patterns, and techno-socio-economic challenges were discussed, along with security (which continues to be the number one challenge for most IoT applications).

There was an informative presentation on “The Transformative Role of IoT on the Future of Education,” and a lively panel focused on venture capital and the IoT areas that are attracting investments. Not surprisingly, most investments are in start-ups that are building IoT software platforms that run in the cloud, or in big data that analyzes data collected by “things.”

A panel on an IEEE standard for an IoT architectural framework provided an overview of that ongoing work in progress. The architectural framework defined in the P2413 IEEE standard is intended to promote cross-domain interaction, aid system interoperability and functional compatibility, and fuel the growth of the IoT market. The adoption of a unified approach to the development of IoT systems will reduce industry fragmentation and create a critical mass of stakeholders around the world. The architectural framework for IoT provides a reference model that defines relationships among various IoT verticals (e.g., transportation, healthcare, etc.) and common architecture elements. It also provides a blueprint for data abstraction and the quality “quadruple” trust that includes protection, security, privacy, and safety.” Also, this standard provides a reference architecture that builds upon the reference model. The reference architecture covers the definition of basic architectural building blocks and their ability to be integrated into multi-tiered systems.

Internet of Things Developers Conference – May 25-26, 2016

This conference and trade show focused specifically on the IoT product developer with in-depth technical presentations and panel sessions. Hands-on demonstrations helped attendees learn about a vendor’s IoT platform.

Maarten Bron of Underwriters Laboratories presented a very refreshing session on IoT security. Bron stated that “as our connected society continues to expand, we are rapidly approaching the practical limits of classical IT security certification. Since nobody certifies the Internet, we must make sure that the Internet of Things becomes a reliable and trustworthy place to be in.”

There were two key takeaways:

  • IoT security should be as foolproof as an unpickable lock.
  • Each vendor’s IoT security capabilities should be STAR rated, by either an independent certification agency or the vendor, after executing several (to be defined) test procedures.

One of the more interesting panel sessions was titled “Sorting Through the Myriad of IoT Connectivity Options.” This included both wireless LANs and new narrow bandwidth wireless WANs. These are often referred to as NB-IoT and/or LPWA (or LPWA). There are many choices here, but the main ones are:

  • LTE Category 1, M1, M2 (Verizon, many other LTE operators).
  • LoRa WAN (Orange, SK Telecom).
  • SIGFOX (new 2G type of wireless WAN being deployed in France, Belgium, the U.S., etc.).
  • Wi-Fi HaLow™ (WiFi Alliance designation for products incorporating IEEE 802.11ah technology operating <1GHz).

Needless to say, there are a plethora of standards bodies and forums working on new connectivity standards or tweaking existing standards for IoT applications. This is illustrated in the figure below, courtesy of Ericsson.

IoT World – May 10-12, 2016

This was the largest IoT conference in the world with more than 10,100 registered attendees, as well as the biggest IoT trade show in terms of exhibit space. Every square inch of the Santa Clara Convention Center was packed with exhibits and vendor presentation or showcase areas.

IoT industry verticals like smart homes, connected cars, wearables (fitness trackers, medical monitors, etc.), industrial IoT, manufacturing/factory floor, smart building/smart cities, were all represented on the show floor, conference sessions, and vision theater. There were also sessions and exhibits on IoT security, IoT cloud, big data/analytics, smart cities, wearables, and many other hot topics broadly related to IoT.

The main theme of the May 10 executive keynotes, “Disrupt, Innovate, and Monetize,” with new business models, improved productivity and other benefits, greatly added to the hype, while providing little or no substance to resolve the critical issues that have plagued IoT since the name was coined (replacing M2M communications).

The Executive Keynotes (often sponsored talks) were from Hitachi, SAP, ADT, Microsoft, Silver Springs Networks, HP Enterprise, Schneider Electric, and JCI. One standout was the HP Enterprise announcement of their Universal IoT Platform.

The new functionality in the HP Enterprise Universal IoT Platform was said to be a driving force in building the infrastructure that will enable and sustain the growth of IoT. The HPE universal IoT platform is aligned with the oneM2M industry standard and is designed to be industry and vendor-agnostic, enabling IoT operators to simultaneously manage heterogeneous sets of sensors, operate vertical applications on machine-to-machine (M2M) devices, as well as process, analyze, and monetize collected data in a single secure cloud platform.

The HPE Universal IoT Platform provides increased support for long range, low power connectivity, ensuring that LoRa® and SIGFOX deployments can be supported alongside other connectivity protocols, including cellular, radio, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

In a May 11 technical session titled “Navigating the IoT Connectivity Landscape,” Alex Kengen of Dialog Semiconductor stated that there’s a “sea of confusion” when it comes to IoT connectivity standards for LANs and PANs, such as WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, Thread, and DECT ULE. That confusion also extends to new IoT WANs, as described in the IoT developers conference above.

Closing Comments and Concerns

  • We wonder how “universal” the HP and other IoT platforms really are and what truly differentiates them from more than 350 other IoT platforms that have been announced.
  • Connectivity is a critical issue for multi-vendor interoperability IoT PANs, LANs, and WANs. However, it is just the first step for IoT interoperability and may not be IP based (e.g., a different packet format and addressing is used by ZigBee). Many other protocol related issues are still unresolved, including: message format above the transport layer, authentication, security protocols and counter- measures, failover/protection/restoration, OAM&P, etc.
  • There needs to be much more discussion on how much of the “thing” data, control, and status signals should be sent to (or from) the Internet vs. being handled by a local access controller. Of course, there will likely not be any local controller for heavy industrial equipment in the field or a cargo container moving through the ocean. But what about a connected home, car, or factory floor?
  • Security and privacy remain huge challenges for IoT. That has remained the case with little observable progress over the past six years.