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 is one of a number of barriers that is holding back mass adoption in the UK and Europe.

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General Electric, following SAP’s lead last week, signed up to the Industrial Internet consortium, a 150-strong body to deliver use cases, test beds, reference architecture and frameworks and security to accelerate the development of the IoT. However, Bill Ruh, vice-president of GE's software division, says: “We don’t care about standards unless they get us to somewhere useful quickly.”

This attitude, echoed by many international firms that are afraid to place all their eggs in one basket, is exacerbating the standards issue.

Samsung and ARM, for example, is listed as a promoter for Thread and its rival Zigbee. A host of manufacturers and tech firms appear more than once on competitors’ lists. Firms’ fear of taking the wrong side and missing out on a technology update could hamper the development of a single breakthrough open standard.

Additionally, there are a number of smaller players that could emerge and disrupt the mix if they gain consumer favour. For example, OpenRemote’s open source software, which allows you to connect and automate devices. It allows people to create an app on their iPad to turn on lights, ceiling fans, TV and home appliances, it claims, regardless of the brand.

But there are a whole host of other obstacles to IoT adoption as well, says Curran, senior member of the electrical and electronic engineer’s association IEEE: “Challenges include government regulation with regards spectrum allocation, security, battery issues, costs and privacy.

“Security, standards and overburdening the network are three requirements that need to be focused on before implementing for mass adoption in modern life.”

Legal challenges over data privacy

General Electric’s Ruh argues that “the barriers are not actually technical ones”. Similarly, SAP’s chief technologist for the UK and Ireland, Mark Darbyshire says that while technical challenges are important, he is interested "in standards about how to express a business model”.

He says: “How do I express service level agreements (SLAs)? Let’s say I’ve signed up to a communication standard from my telco provider that says whoever you are we guarantee a certain amount of data. How do I take a SLA and apply it to your WiFi when I’m in your home. How can I carry across the business standard? For us [SAP] that’s where standards become more important.

"Also, there is a lot of focus on low-level technicalities and less focus on analytics."

Darbyshire recently dicussed the vendor’s legal concerns over the control of mass amounts of customer information the vendor will hold as data networks flourish.

“We might see all of your transactions but Cisco might see all of your packets, and Apple might see all of your interactions. So there are a number of companies that could get in the path of seeing all of what is going on - and we would all like to get some clarity on that. It’s not an easy question to answer."

He revealed that SAP, amongst other UK vendors, had spoken to the government recently to address data concerns.

The issue is heightened in the UK - the home of CCTV. Privacy issues could arise if data collection mechanisms lead to identifying individuals. Recently the police force came under fire for storing the images of hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens - an issue that could escalate as more devices begin to communicate.

“One of the next steps is now for governments to engage more with the public through workshop on privacy and data collection. If we leave it took long, it may be too late to put the genie back in the bottle," adds Curran.

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