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11 Myths About the Internet of Things

Dec. 1, 2015
Technology Editor Bill Wong takes on 11 Myths about the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is obviously a hot topic these days and it means many things to different people. There are also a lot of myths revolving around IoT. Here are 11 to consider.

1. The Internet of Things (IoT) is just M2M (machine-to-machine) in another guise.

IoT has many aspects of M2M, with data moving between devices, but it encompasses more than a dedicated M2M environment would imply. With IoT, there are normally one or more hosts on the Internet that act as a central repository and control system. IoT also implies remote monitoring and control that is often a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet that has an application that also communicates with the host.

2. All IoT devices will work together.

This seems unlikely as most IoT devices actually reside within a “walled garden” where they work with other devices from the same vendor. Some vendors will provide access to the information from their devices via a cloud interface while others may provide direct access to the device. Standards like Thread from the Thread Group or ARM’s mbed provide a level of compatibility between devices so they support the same protocols, but it is up to the vendor to allow data or control to be shared using these protocols.

3. There are no IoT standards, or, there is an IoT standard.

There are actually many IoT standards in the works. Some, like Arm’s mbed incorporate others like the Thread Group’s wireless Thread standard. Many IoT standards are built on existing standards such as the 802.15.4 wireless protocol, the IPv6 communication protocol, and embedded control protocols like MQTT.

At this point there is no single, overarching IoT standard and it is unlikely that one will exist in the coming decade. There will be many that emerge to dominate one or more markets but competition, vendor lock-in, and other issues will mean everyone will have to contend with multiple IoT standards.

4. The Internet of Things is just about sensors.

A variety of sensors are found in many IoT devices, but they are just one source of information from an IoT device. Some devices can be controlled remotely and they may, in turn, affect their environment. IoT is also about the maintenance, management and support of the IoT devices and those devices, routers, and hosts that they may communicate with.

5. IoT is just about “big data.”

“Big Data” is the idea that useful information can be extracted from large collections of data such as IoT devices from cars to smartwatches. This aggregated data may be sourced from some IoT devices but that is not a requirement or typical of the majority of IoT devices at this point. Many IoT devices are often paired with a control application on a person’s smartphone. Often a vendor providing a cloud-based hosting service for IoT device management will want or require access and use of this information to do things like provide this information to advertisers.

6. The Internet of Things cannot be made secure.

Security will be a tricky subject with IoT devices as it is with any computer or embedded device. The IoT space will likely have a wide range of security problems, but security is one topic that is part of most emerging IoT standards. This is often in the form of secure communication such as TLS. The challenge is that IoT devices are connected, meaning they can be attacked remotely. Likewise, data is moving from IoT devices into the cloud so there are many attack surfaces.

More microcontrollers are incorporating hardware-based security support such as ARM’s latest ARMv8-M that adds TrustZone support to Cortex-M class microcontrollers (see “New ARM v8 Architecture for Microcontrollers” on Electronic Design). This will help make an IoT device more secure, but only if developers take advantage of it as well making sure their application and platform are bug-free and secure.

7. The Internet of Things cannot be made reliable.

This is similar to the previous IoT security myth. IoT devices and environments can be reliable, but developers will need to take care when implementing, deploying, and maintaining the software. IoT software will need to address issues like security breaches, transient communication, and even differing software versions among its peers. As with most software, it comes down to the initial design requirements and continues on through the implementation and long-term support.

8. IoT devices must have wireless connectivity.

In general, an IoT device must have some level of connectivity to connect with a host in the cloud, a peer, or a router, although the connection may be transient in nature. There will be a large number of wireless IoT devices but wired devices can be linked using a variety of technologies from Ethernet to USB.

9. More IoT security means less user privacy.

Security and privacy tend to be related, but this is a false dichotomy. Individual or organizational privacy is a matter of keeping information away from other individuals or organizations. This is often done using security-related techniques such as encryption to keep data away from prying eyes.

Typically, IoT data at least flows through servers on the Internet, usually to an application on a user’s control device like a smartphone. The server is usually controlled by a third party that has access to the data. Whether they use this data for other purposes affects privacy.

10. Everyone’s view of IoT will be the same.

We are actually at the other extreme. Ask five vendors or users what IoT is and what the infrastructure looks like and you are likely to get five completely different answers. A vendor’s view is usually biased toward their offerings. For example, vendors that sell microcontrollers usually start at the IoT device level while vendors selling microprocessors or boards often start at the router level. Vendors selling cloud-based IoT services focus on that aspect.

11. It is easy to deliver an IoT product.

This is what every vendor selling an IoT development solution wants you to believe, but getting an IoT device talking to a user application is just the beginning. The typical IoT development kit will let you do this in an afternoon. The challenge is moving from a single IoT device to many and then managing and monetizing it while maintaining reliability, security, and privacy.

IoT environments typically have many more issues for a designer to consider compared to the typical embedded device or an application running on a PC or server. IoT frameworks, design services, and support services make the job of implementing and support an IoT environment easier, but the greater complexity of the environment can make the job much tougher than developing for a standalone device or even a networked device in a more conventional M2M environment.

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