Making Sense Of IoT Standardization

Making Sense Of IoT Standardization

By | February 8th, 2016
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There are numerous standard bodies and industry interest groups who are

working on standardizing various aspects of IoT. This article, first in a

series of two, puts a context to the activities. In the concluding part, we

will actually go into various standardization efforts.


The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from—wrote Prof Andrew S Tanenbaum in his Computer Networks, the iconic textbook on Networking for Computer Science undergrads for close to five decades.

Prof Tanenbaum’s words sound more than prophetic when one looks at the number of standards that are being worked out in the Internet of Things (IoT) space.

Of course, there are some who still dream of a single global standard. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is the torch bearer of this line of thought. The trends, these days, are clearly to the contrary. ITU does not have to look beyond its own standard making history, to realize this. Take its wireless 3G standard making process. The original dream of ITU was to have IMT 2000 as a single global standard but it had to settle for a set of specifications allowing multiple standards, when it could not make two rival groups agree on a single standard. This is despite the fact that telecom has traditionally followed a formal de jure standard regime, whereas IT and consumer technologies have followed de facto and proprietary approaches respectively.

Then, IoT is not about a single technology. For all practical purpose, we will probably have to live with multiple standards and frameworks, some of which will consolidate and in all probability all of them will talk to each other.

And it is not a bad thing at all.

To be sure, not all standards are competing against each other. They do different things.

One way to classify them is to look at the layers of functionalities that they provide such as application protocols, service layer developing frameworks and network and access protocols. There are efforts to develop standards both at the individual layer as well as complete frameworks encapsulating all the layers. There are four-five major industry alliances, in addition to standard making bodies like ITU and IEEE which are working on a comprehensive multi-layer framework. Most others work in one layer, with connectivity being the most crowded space.

The other way to categorize is look at the field of application. While many of the standards—such as Zigbee, Z wave and Thread that are primarily addressed at home application, there are some that have evolved from the industrial needs, such as the IIRA from Industrial Internet Consortium. Some others such as SigFox and LoRa have found acceptance in smart cities and other such wide area applications. Even ITU’s efforts on IoT are centered more around smart cities. And of course, there are business vertical specific industry standard alliances such as GENIVI Alliance in automotive industry for in-car infotainement.

It is now being acknowledged that beyond the hype, real IoT takeoff will not happen in a significant manner till some of the standardization efforts succeed. In the next part, we take a look at most important IoT standardization efforts globally.

Nash David
Nash David is passionate about technology and mobile devices. He closely follows the smartphone, and tablet platform market. He also leads editorial efforts for devworx. You may send him tweets @nashpd or email