Standardisation in the Internet of Things: A challenging opportunity for Europe

m2m General

The Internet of Things (IoT) is still maturing as several factors limit its full exploitation. It is therefore not surprising that the subject of standards and the IoT is highly debated today.

Defining the IoT has been, and remains, a key obstacle to standardisation: IoT is not a technology but an emerging paradigm that encompasses wireless sensor networks, RFID, Machine-to-Machine and other technologies that all tend to converge to intelligent devices based on the connection of anything at any time from any place to any network. More recently, the U.S. industry has been promoting the concept of Internet of Everything (IoE), which is about expanding Big Data.

The European Research Cluster on the Internet of Things (IERC) has defined the IoT as “a dynamic global network infrastructure with self-configuring capabilities based on standard and interoperable communication protocols where physical and virtual ‘things’ have identities, physical attributes, and virtual personalities and use intelligent interfaces, and are seamlessly integrated into the information network”.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) adopted in July 2012 a similar definition: “a global infrastructure for the information society enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving, interoperable information and communication technologies”. Since 2012 several other definitions of the Internet of Things have blossomed without probably exhausting the potentiality of the expression.

The success of the IoT is highly dependent on the development of interoperable global standards which are needed both within a particular application – to provide cost-effective realisations of solutions – and between domains – to enable cooperation between different applications covering a wide range of disciplines that are not considered part of the ICT domain. Emphasis has been put recently on communications and protocol standards, but a major effort is needed to standardise system functions or system architectures supporting the Internet of Things.

ITU-T leads the work of the ITU on standards for next generation networks (NGN) and future networks. The IoT is described as including Ubiquitous Sensor Networks (USN), Smart Ubiquitous Networks (SUN), the Web of Things (WoT), Machine-oriented Communication (MOC, i.e. M2M), and Network Identification (NID, i.e. network aspects of identification systems and tag-based identification).

In Europe, European Standardisation Organisations (ESOs) work hard to support Machine to Machine (M2M), in particular by implementing three European Commission mandates: M441 on smart metering, M/468 for electric vehicles, and M/490 on smart grid. Since 2013, the oneM2M Partnership Project to which ESOs participate develops globally agreed-upon, access independent, end-to-end specifications for an M2M communications and management system that can be readily embedded within various hardware and software, connecting the wide range of devices in the field with M2M application servers worldwide.

The industry has recently entered into the standardisation arena with major announcements. In December 2013, the Allseen Alliance was established by Haier, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp, Silicon Image, TP-LINK, and more, to enable interoperability across multiple devices, systems and services and support broadest cross-industry effort to accelerate the Internet of Everything.

In March 2014, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) was set up by large companies, including Cisco, General Electric, IBM and Intel, to create engineering standards to connect objects, sensors and large computing systems in some of the world’s largest industrial assets, like oil refineries, factories or harbours.

Furthermore, several EU-funded research projects include a component of pre-normative research – standardisation is then viewed as only one activity in a life-cycle process that also includes pre-regulatory activities as well as post-standardisation activities (i.e. certification and validation).

These projects strive to liaise with Standard Developing Organisation (SDOs), but also with special interest groups, industry alliances and open communities that drive technology development and set de facto standards in their specific applied areas. It is worth noting that in the wake of the IoT-A EU project’s Architectural Reference Model (ARM), China recently proposed to ISO/IEC JTC 1 SWG 5 a new standard proposal “Internet of Things Reference Architecture (IoT-RA)”.

Over the last decade there has been a combination of intense competition and collaboration between SDOs across territorial levels and industrial sectors (oil, transportation, energy, healthcare, etc.), with so far a lot of unresolved issues. In addition, competition now tends to sharpen between traditional SDOs and industry alliances.

Whatever progress is made, agreed standards do not necessarily mean that the objective of interoperability is achieved – activities such as conformance testing and certification on a broad scale are essential. Therefore, the role of the European Commission in the near future could be to foster international collaboration, in particular via the Horizon 2020 programme, by establishing the practical conditions for a multi-stakeholder dialogue. 


gerald santucci
Gérald Santucci
Head of the Knowledge Sharing Unit at European Commission DG Connect

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