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Internet of Things behind the scenes

Typography

IoT has become “the now big thing” in the smart city ecosystem. The Internet of Things started from M2M, and it has been adopted in a widespread manner by companies involved in the deployment of infrastructure and services for connected cities.

 

Companies like Vodafone and Telefónica have been working for years in the Machine to Machine (M2M) technology as a way to connect machines to each other in an industrial setting.

To take a case in point, Vodafone has over 20 years of experience in the aforementioned field -the starting point for the Internet of Things, the expression that is generally used to refer to connected objects. A conventional example may be found in the management of solar power plants or automated industrial systems, where remote control and monitoring of equipment and infrastructure are used to develop maintenance or process optimization tasks. Another classic example involves fleet control, in which vehicles may be located and monitored using GPS systems integrated in the vehicles. Logistics is also a field that has traditionally taken advantage of automation systems.

Vodafone has been offering solutions for machine to machine connectivity for 20 years. They started with M2M solutions and later on added the IoT dimension, as well as applications in such areas as Smart Cities. 

In such cases, communication between devices was achieved by means of embedded SIM cards with 2G communication technologies; that was enough to transmit control data from time to time. M2M platforms were separated and differentiated from the Internet itself, and they focused on devices and communications to send and receive data. Companies that decided to deploy such solutions depended on ad hoc technologies which had been designed exclusively for them, or else with a low degree of standardization. Besides, development environments required deep technical and engineering knowledge: specific technologies were to be developed to read sensor data by means of communication protocols that were, in most cases, far away from the standardization concept. 

 

Internet and the cloud

Connecting devices such as sensors, temperature control systems, actuators or luminaires for street lighting seemed a logical evolution for M2M, even if the IPv4 protocol only made it possible to assign a limited amount of IP addresses. Thus, a leap forward was taken and IPv6 was introduced, which provides for 2128 IP addresses as opposed to the 232 IP addresses made available by IPv4. In this way, the IP addressing system is no longer a problem. Even though M2M is still used in industrial scenarios, the expression Internet of Things is now widespread to refer to objects that are connected through Internet servers. Such servers are the fundamental pillars of cloud computing, along with the services that were introduced to facilitate interoperability with connected objects. IoT is precisely M2M connected through the cloud. At least this is Ericsson’s view on the subject.

Growth forecasts for IoT have been on the rise since companies such as Cisco or IBM focused on this technology field several years ago, and consultant companies such as Gartner or IDC started to include IoT as one of the key trends in technological development in the areas of Smart Cities, Industrial services or the internet-connected home.

The Hype cycle is broadly used in Gartner predictions for several areas. IoT has kept improving its positions, and it now finds itself in the peak of the hype cycle; the highest expectations are now on this technology. 

2014 was considered the year of the Internet of Things, and the trend is expected to be confirmed in 2015. Apart from the corresponding events in the sector, IoT has been a must in several events such as Mobile World Congress 2015 or CeBit 2015. In both events, the cloud was confirmed as one of the key factors to understand the Internet of Things phenomenon, which, according to Cisco, may also be called the Internet of Everything (IoE). 

The role played by the cloud in the deployment of IoT is included in the CaaS modality (Cloud as a Service): connected devices may carry their data to cloud servers with no need for services or applications at all. Internet-connected sensors and devices already consider integration with a Cloud platform, basic management of data and control operations to be an essential part of their technology. There is no need to design the data capture layer or the Internet communication layer, which in most cases becomes a component of IoT projects.

 

Trends in IoT 

The number of connected things grows at a pace beyond linearity. Right now, according to the meter box of connected “things” by Cisco, there are more than 15 billion entities connected to the Internet, and estimations expect this figure to rise to 50 billions in 2020. The cloud is one of the trends for the Internet of Things, along with “Fog computing”, by which connected devices would connect to the cloud and connect among each other to facilitate configuration or synchronisation tasks.

The amount of connected people and “things” grows beyond linearity. Nowadays, around 15 billion objects are connected.

A trend has become particularly important in the Internet of Things: Industrial IoT or IIoT. Based on industrial automation and SCADA systems, the concepts are now seen in a completely new light (as is the case of Accenture) in which IIoT is defined as “a network of physical objects, systems, platforms and applications that contain embedded technology to communicate and share intelligence with each other, their surroundings and people”.

According to Accenture, IIoT will be a 7.1 billion-dollar industry in the USA in 2030. IIoT represents the Internet of Things at the service of the digitalization of industrial processes by means of embedded connected sensors along with data analytics and Big Data techniques that are specific for process optimization. The aim is to build the so-called “Outcome Economy”. One of the benchmark companies in the sector is General Electric, but tens of companies already belong to the Industrial Internet Consortium 

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) represents the specialization of IoT in industrial processes beyond process automation itself.

Overall, IoT is involved in cross-cutting sectors that include the household sector for connected homes, the development of infrastructure and services in smart cities and the smart management of energy or agriculture. This is a broad picture, with as many applications as may be imagined. Several trends stand out among the general scope, at least in the “picture” for the present moment: 

 

1) Routers

Routers are essential to connect devices to Internet communication networks, and they are closely monitored by network equipment manufacturers in order to fit in optimized technologies and communication protocols to manage a large amount of sensors. Several companies, such as Verizon, are already offering routers with Z-Wave technology (one of the technologies that is leading the way in the connection of household IoT). Cisco has introduced its operating system for business devices, IOx, which is optimized for handling the huge amount of data available in the Internet of Everything.

Router manufacturers are starting to integrate sophisticated operating systems in the management and configuration of devices connected within their range of action. 

 

2) The cloud

The cloud is not a new trend, but it has proven itself to be one of the fundamental element of IoT strategies, both for hardware-developing companies and for those that focus on services. To take a case in point, Amazon has included among its services a specific solution for companies that base their business (or a part of it) in connected sensor and device management. Database developers are also taking their solutions to the cloud to facilitate data capture from connected objects and adapting them to cater for the needs of such devices, such as working with large volumes of unstructured data. Oracle offers specific database technologies to handle millions of data. SAP or Teradata have also developed IoT-specific solutions. Microsoft is currently “adapting” Azure to offer tailor-made services for connected objects. Google is working in such projects as Physical Objects, which is still in its infancy. FIWARE is an European-level project that focuses on the design of standard APIs to facilitate access to IoT-data repositories to build relevant applications and services.

 

3) Fog Computing

Fog Computing is a recent trend in which a computation layer is added to interconnected devices so that there is no need to transfer data to the cloud to perform device synchronization or control tasks. Besides, the system may be used for data storage through distributed device networks.

For instance, IBM offers Bluemix, a cloud platform to develop cloud applications with no need for additional software to be installed. Several APIs are available for different platforms, and much of the code may be reused.

IBM offers BlueMix, an application and services development system that also includes IoT.

 

4) Platforms

IoT services may also be offered as complete IoT platforms, nearly as turnkey projects. They are partially or totally based on standards and offer both cloud service to process sensor-gathered data and hardware sensors working and with easy-to-use development environments. Several of the aforementioned services are available: Carriots IoT Application Platform, Telefónica Thinking Things, Libelium Meshlium, Relayr WunderBar and Spark. Apple’s Home Kit will probably be included in this category, whether they use their own devices or third-party devices.

For instance, Telefónica Thinking Things offers a set of modular sensors along with a mobile communication connectivity service that makes it possible to gather data on light, humidity or temperature with no need for WiFi. Besides, Telefónica offers an open development environment to build IoT solutions using third-party hardware. Nevertheless, the cloud platform is to be used to store and process data.

IoT platforms such as Thinking Things make it possible to develop solutions for Internet of Things in a fast, easy manner from open sources and basic APIs such as REST.

 

5) Security

This is an essential aspect for the widespread use of IoT. Sensors and devices installed will need to include automated systems to detect and repair breakdowns in an automatic manner. Technologies that validate the legitimacy of data and registers gathered by the thousands of million devices all over the world will also need to be included. Resilience is a key concept for smart cities and their day-to-day widespread application.

 

6) Big Data, Analytics, View

It is essential for data to be available, but obtaining information after data analysis is equally important. Data analytics and BI (Business Intelligence) have traditionally been in charge of such procedures, but Big Data is now taking the lead, as data capture speed increases, along with the amount of data sources and their unstructured nature (to name a few).

Data View is is a key discipline to go hand in hand with analytics and Big Data. Showing the results of data analysis in a visually-friendly format ?by using charts, computer graphics and computer animations? makes it possible to reach conclusions by checking trend lines or temperature maps. 

 

7) Internet-Connected Home

IoT and the consumer market meet in internet-connected homes, which represent the application of the Internet of Things to a well-known, familiar environment through easy-to-use solutions that may be easily installed. Video surveillance, home temperature regulation, movement detectors, programmable lighting systems or smart plugs are some of the devices that may be bought and installed. Belkin, D-Link, AVM or Philips are some of the companies that offer solutions for Internet-Connected Homes. Microsoft and Samsung also offer some of the aforementioned solutions. 

 

8) Development Kits

Development systems are one of the areas to which more attention is given in the IoT context. These are electronic components that include a microprocessor unit, a memory unit, inputs and outputs and one or several development environments; using the kits, application prototypes for the Internet of Things may be built and tested. Arduino is the best known of them all, a microcontroller system (with no operating system) that is to be previously programmed according to the application to be implemented. Programming should also take into account the inputs and ouputs connected as well as the sensors chosen.

Raspberry Pi, Intel Edison, Intel Galileo, Beagle Board, UDOO or Mediatek LinkIt (the most recent addition to the group) are just some of the dozens of existing possibilities to start prototyping IoT solutions in their electronic dimension. Such development boards provide inputs, outputs and tools to read digital signals provided by sensors and actuators that are to be monitored and used. Arduino is usually the reference, and their inputs and outputs are used by other boards with an identical arrangement of pins.

We will focus on this IoT functional area to zoom in on the characteristic features for each development system (SEE TABLE). Either for companies or for amateurs, the kits have exceptional possibilities and are affordable for nearly everyone wishing to take the first steps in the area. They are cheap, and training resources are available online. Their use for educational purposes is becoming more and more frequent, and hackathones organized by amateurs, companies and developer communities are no longer a computer geek meeting. Hackathones are now a highly-regarded activity in cultural centres, co-workings, private companies and public administrations. Social networks are another vehicle to make activities by IoT enthusiasts and entrepreneurs known. MeetUp, for instance, promotes frequent meetings to share projects or doubts on the subject. 

 

IoT

 

MeetUp is one of the most active social networks for the organization of all kinds of events. In particular, events related to the development of applications or electronic projects have a large number of followers. An active user community has gathered around the Internet of Things.

“Makers” are another community involved in the Internet of Things. Different profiles are included in the community, such as IoT enthusiasts or people willing to know more about the subject, who join such groups to develop new solutions or improve the ones that already exist. MakeSpace Madrid is one of them.

 

Pending questions 

We are in the midst of an exciting period in terms of technology. Rules and specifications for the Internet of Things are being defined, and many questions remain unanswered. To date, IoT has reached its peak in Gartner’s Hype Curve. If things are to move along as they usually do, the following step will involve IoT falling into the trough of disillusionment. Afterwards, IoT is expected to rise again at a slower speed in a new phase in which it will be a much more robust and fit solution for its definitive deployment in the Smart Cities context, or else in agriculture or in the automotive industry.

Matters such as IoT systems security and integrity are to be addressed; besides, standards should be found to facilitate the collection and analysis of data gathered by thousands of million sensors. Right now, we have the opportunity to become a player in the process by bringing forward ideas and by developing our own ideas as well. We have the required tools.