The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a widely used buzz-word appearing not just in technical circles but in everyday language used by consumers and the media. Just like other technical terms which have entered common usage, such as Cloud Computing, IoT means different things to different people.
The current IoT ecosystem
Over the past decades we have seen a trend where devices that often start out aimed at the consumer market gain popularity and enhanced use-cases in business environments. Our current technological era, which started in 2008 with the widespread adoption of smart phones and tablets, is a great example of this.
The range of “Things” is staggering, some of which are incredibly useful, others questionably less so – Smart Toilet anyone?
I meet many technical industry peers who’ve turned home automation and the world of IoT into an all-consuming hobby. They spend long hours integrating disparate devices and systems together into various complex climate, security and infotainment systems. While I don’t count myself amongst their ranks, (outside of my professional work) the good news is that things are improving. There are more intuitive apps and systems that enabled smoother integration, across multiple manufacturers, all with greater ease. If This Then That (IFTTT) is a good example – and is freely available for anyone to experiment with.
IoT in the enterprise
How does this translate to the wider environment outside of our homes? From enterprises, to public entertainment venues and Smart Cities, IoT devices and their interaction with each other is gaining in popularity and sophistication.
The challenge is the number of IoT communication protocols which are battling it out for market dominance. They are also almost exclusively wireless in their medium of communication. If you’d like to learn more about the three key standards of interest, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee and LoRa, which all service different types of IoT devices and scenarios, I’d recommend this great blog by my colleague Sascha Hirschoff: “Smart Building Radio Technologies” (original in German)
This presents the business owner with a challenge – how to support multiple wireless standards in a cost effective, reliable and manageable manner?
Salvation lies with the ubiquitous Wi-Fi Access point.
If we consider as I discussed in one of my previous blogs that Wi-Fi is synonymous with internet access, and therefore considered an essential service everywhere, Wi-Fi access points will always be nearby. Hence if a Wi-Fi access point can extend its capabilities to become a multi-standard radio device, we can architect a simplified, efficient and manageable solution.
In business, these solutions can become a reality when a key infrastructure provider is able to simplify the deployment of an IoT solution. They should be utilizing the existing Wi-Fi access points, to securely aggregate disparate IoT communications to a centralized platform. From this platform, open standards Application Programming Interface (API) coding must allow ease of integration to any standards compliant third- party application. Life gets much more interesting when a Rules Engine platform is introduced, allowing seemingly disparate IoT devices to interact and operate according to sets of logic.
The world is truly becoming a place where if you can find a way to code it, you can make almost any IoT device interact with another, only limited by your imagination and creativity.