Why the standards debate is hampering the growth of the Internet of Things in the UK


The Internet of Things offers a host of benefits to the UK, such as improved data, customer service and even a manufacturing renaissance on British shores. However, a lack of loyalty to one, common manufacturing standard for connected devices amongst businesses is one of a number of barriers that is holding back mass adoption in the UK and Europe. (See also: What is the Internet of Things?)

Although many manufacturers like domestic appliances maker Electrolux, are developing a large range of connected products, experts believe that the IoT will only have reached critical mass, or ‘Industry 4.0’, when third-parties are able to connect to these products and offer new services.

For example, its connected range allows Electrolux to gain insight into products’ lifecycles, from design, to parts assembly, to delivery, to the kitchen. Critical mass adoption will have been reached when external services are able to connect into this thread, for instance, servicing firms who can be alerted when a machine is about to break down, or a comparison site that can push offers to the machine owner when it reaches the end of its life.

Across Europe and the UK, the technology to connect all sensor-fitted devices across a data network exists, the cost of technology required to control the communication of data through devices is falling and there is no slowdown in the popularity of mobile devices to keep people connected to the network. All this points to IoT being an all-pervasive technology within 10 years’ time.

So what’s standing in the way?

Despite these positive indicators, a significant barrier to mass adoption of IoT is the lack of agreement over technical standards.

The UK’s smart meter rollout is one IoT project that has been hampered by this issue.

The government’s goal to install 50 million smart electricity and gas meters in British homes and businesses by 2020 shows the UK’s willingness to implement cheaper, environmentally friendlier technologies that benefit both the provider and the customer. However, plagued by confusion over technical standards, utility companies - like British Gas - began installing smart meters that would be technically ‘out-of-date’ before the project finishes. Some of their 800,000 meters will have to be replaced by 2020 - an estimated 10-15 years short of their natural life expectancy and at added costs to customers.

Manufacturers of IoT devices and network providers will want to avoid the costs of creating incompatible devices, but a conflict between proprietary standards among device manufacturers is making this difficult, according to Dr Kevin Curran, a computer science and security expert.

As it stands “we cannot buy a smart toaster and expect it to communicate to the microwave,” he says.

The standards battle

To enable this, there are attempts to standardise interoperability between devices, with a number of industry-backed groups fighting to become the universal standard. The AllSeen Alliance, for example is backed by Electrolux’s CIO Marcus Claesson, as well as the Linux Foundation, LG, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp, and HTC. AllSeen Alliance's software will be based on AllJoyn, Qualcomm’s open-source code.

Google has muscled in with its Thread alliance, Zigbee is another contender, and during Mobile World Congress earlier this month, Telefónica, Orange and Atos announced their commitment to the FIWARE platform for creating smart cities.

Marieta Rivero, chief deputy commercial officer at Telefónica said: “Using FIWARE, Smart Cities can deliver the platform, combining Open Data and the APIs based on which new innovative applications can be created.

Meanwhile, the UK government has backed home-grown standards group Hypercat, which, like the Industrial Internet consortium, aims to provide guidelines for best practices. The consortium includes Accenture, IBM, ARM, University of Cambridge and BT.

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