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The ABCs of the Internet of Things

Patrick Thibodeau | May 7, 2014
What it is, how it works and why it may not succeed

SmartThings, for instance, makes a hub that supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave, as well as a platform to build connecting applications. Eventually, these wireless technologies may be included in home routers, set-top boxes from your cable companies, or even devices such as a Google Chromecast.

Won't Bluetooth win in the end?

Bluetooth Low Energy was originally aimed at wearable technology, not the broad IoT market. But in early 2014, CSR, a semiconductor maker, announced a mesh network for Bluetooth, meaning it could now connect to thousands of things.

Bluetooth's ubiquity in mobile devices means that a Bluetooth mesh network as a broad IoT platform will have some advantages. Because Bluetooth is already a feature on smartphones, a smartphone could act as a management hub inside a home. But it's not perfect. A hub will be needed if someone wants to connect with the home network remotely, such as from work.

Do the big consumer product vendors really want an Internet of Things?

Skeptics say it's unlikely that all the big vendors will embrace open standards. A more likely outcome for the IoT are technological islands defined by proprietary data interchanges.

Without open standards or open communication protocols, devices on the network won't be able to share data and work in concert. Will Apple develop products that can connect with Samsung products? Will Bosch products communicate with those from Samsung or Sears? Maybe not.

Consumers will be frustrated and will be told that they need to buy into a particular vendor's product partner network to get a full IoT experience.

Can open source force the big vendors to play nice?

Open source advocates are hoping they can avert a fracturing of the IoT. The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit consortium, created the AllSeen Aliance and released a code stack in late 2013 that can be used by any electronics or appliance maker to connect to another product. The alliance hopes that the sheer weight of adoption of this stack, called AllJoyn, will help to push the IoT toward open standards. AllJoyn is agnostic about wireless protocols, and support for Bluetooth LE, ZigBee and Z-Wave can be added easily by the community.

Will the IoT destroy what little privacy you have left?

Privacy advocates are plenty worried about the IoT's impact on consumers. Part of this is due to the arrival of IPv6 addresses, the next generation Internet protocol. It replaces IPv4, which assigned 32-bit addresses, with a total limit of 4.3 billion; IPv6 is 128-bit, and allows for 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses or 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This makes it possible to assign a unique identifier to anything that's part of the IoT (although not everything needs to be IP addressable, such as light switches). This may enable deep insights into a home. Smart metering systems, for instance, will be able to track individual appliance use.

 

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