Companies such as Cisco, Ericsson and other players have been projecting the exponential expansion of connected IoT devices for years. From the first connected device in 1990 (a toaster connected by TCP/IP) to 26 billion connected devices in 2019, technologies for communication and connectivity continue to evolve. However, with expansion comes the challenge of growth.

With standards-based code embedded on the modules and with the use of common data objects, Itron Idea Labs is working with IOTEROP, a company offering IoT device management solutions, to promote a common architecture from device to cloud so every device developer and every IoT solution designer can enjoy an accelerated path to deployment.

On Jan. 19, I was able to join a panel of IoT experts as part of the Cellular IoT for Smart Cities webinar to discuss how Itron Idea Labs is collaborating with IOTEROP and others to surgically remove obstacles and enable the IoT explosion.

During the panel, device management was the first obstacle to be addressed. Panelist Matt Hatton of Transforma pointed out the need for no touch provisioning in use cases where a city or service provider has millions of sensors spread out in a diverse geographic area. Imagine a router upgrade in your own home. Your televisions, both laptops, the tablets, gaming devices, everybody’s phone, the doorbell and who knows what else will need to be provisioned to reconnect with the IoT – and that’s just a single home. Hence the need for a truly scalable, truly no-touch process for device manufacturers, application developers, businesses and cities. Stephen Lurie, a panelist from IOTEROP, pointed out that Itron understands the need for device management that scales from “a business or human or processes standpoint.”

Another obstacle raised by the panel was data exchange. Envision a city with multiple departments all gathering data in their own way. Sharing that data among departments and with organizations outside the city can be crucial to enabling essential use cases. To address this challenge, the key is standards! And Itron is engaged with standards organizations who are making a difference. As an example, I described Itron’s work to define common functions and processes using a public repository of data objects with defined attributes (OMA ISPO objects). Using the LwM2M standard and the work done by the OMA Specworks organization, a public repository of data objects with their attributes is now available. IoT solution developers can align around open standards and standardized data models, working within this framework to ensure their data collection adheres to standards that will enable sharing.

A third obstacle to IoT explosion was the fact that security is an ever-moving target. Hatton mentioned the need for over-the-air firmware updates to ensure that IoT devices stay current. For this example, I described our work with module makers (Quectel, Ublox, Sequans, Sierra, Nordic, etc.) to ensure the ability to embed a full IP stack with keys, protocols and secure firmware extensions. This built-in stack on the module becomes a foundation for a device developer, reducing the expertise needed in underlying protocols and allowing developers to focus on building their solution. This architecture promotes a single SKU that works anywhere in world, delivering a global footprint with the added benefit of reducing the attack area on each device.

Itron’s decades-long experience deploying Industrial IoT devices in the field helps us bring standards, security and scalability together for our industry and the developer community, and the evolving landscape changes from an intimidating maze to a well-lit, clearly marked pathway for deployment and adoption of IoT solutions.

View a recording of the Cellular IoT for Smart City: An Evolving Landscape panel, with my presentation visible at minute 34.

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David Howard
David Howard has been involved in electronic communications hardware and software for nearly 40 years – that’s before ‘.com’ existed! He initially started at the age of nine by obtaining an Amateur ‘Ham’ radio license in 1974. After building several shortwave radios, he built his first computer (H19 terminal, H89 computer) around 1980 before graduating to an IBM PC around 1982. In the mid 80’s David formed a company with his uncle, and designed and built an IBM PC compatible co-processor board, which implemented the then fledgling ANSI X9.9 Financial Institution Message Authentication and X9.17 Key Management Services standards --- precursors to cyber security systems used today. He was a major contributor to video compression development for a US DoD video terminal that docked to secure telephone units for battlefield communications.
David authored more than six patents on signal processing and antenna systems for wireless communications, and was a significant contributor to IEEE standards for wireless networks 802.15.4g, as well as 802.15.4k. More recently David has been involved with applying wireless technologies to city infrastructure projects such as streetlight management and control, and the Internet of Things.