I am often asked about the Internet of Things: is there really something new here, or is IoT really just a recycling of M2M with a trendier name? I strongly believe that the I in IoT stands for something important that doesn't automatically describe every connected device solution that's around. No, the I doesn't mean that every device needs to be connected to a cloud on the other side of the planet: a switch in a room can - and probably should - talk to the light next to it directly without cloud involvement. And no, the I does not mean that all the Things need to babble about their social lives on Facebook or Snapchat. The I does, however mean that the above scenarios should actually be possible - even if they are not obviously desirable - and easy to do if it makes sense. The I also means that ultimately one should be able to get devices easily from multiple vendors, a welcome change from the days of "Ma Bell" when all telephones had to be supplied by the one phone company.
But the I has a deeper meaning as well: it refers to the principles that are used to design the Internet that have deep roots in its architecture. Values like the end-to-end principle, which hold that application logic should be at the edge of the network and not in its fabric has allowed an unprecedented amount of innovation. The open approach to designing and layering the protocols that make the Internet work ensured that the Internet's architecture is robust and that it evolves in a tractable way. The same approach to the problem is valid and desirable now when we are starting to put ten to a hundred times more things on the Internet than people. The good news is that we aren't starting from scratch: many of the architectural layers and technologies already exist on the web and can be adapted to work on IoT devices.
With the widespread adoption of modern microcontrollers (MCUs) in very inexpensive and energy-efficient form factors, we now have the ability to make even the smallest embedded device a first-class citizen of the Internet. The open standards that support their operation have evolved to the point where they can be deployed on constrained devices (and networks) in a secure and robust way. The Internet of Things really only becomes a reality when we connect things with services in a seamless, secure and simple way. To understand just how big of a paradigm shift this is, we can look back at the history of the web. The Internet before the web was very much silos of solutions from the likes of America On-Line (AOL), Prodigy and CompuServe, forming technology and content silos very much like M2M systems. Web technology completely changed that industry in the '90s, providing a technology platform that enabled innovation and market growth at an unprecedented pace. Facebook would certainly have never existed before the web unless one of the on-line services decided that it was important, and even then it would have only been for your friends on that one service. We believe that building the Internet of Things the right way - by taking seriously the deeper meaning of the I - will enable a similar paradigm shift.
In order to take advantage of the market opportunities this will bring, two major hurdles will need to be overcome: building a strong software ecosystem and making the right connectivity, security and management standards available to developers (in implementations, not just in specs!). It turns out, that even though the IoT market is made up of many vertical segments, most applications that can make use of Internet connected devices have a common foundation. Let's take smart cities, basic wearables and smart home devices as examples. These all share the need for basic OS functionality like drivers, device security and provisioning support. And although network connectivity varies from application to application, in general the IP networking, security, application layer and device management needs are all common.
It is important for ARM and our partners to take a proactive role in this ecosystem. This means that when the right standard isn't already sitting on the shelf in a pretty package, we need to put in the work to evolve one that fits. We saw such need for a home connectivity standard and teamed up with NEST, Freescale, Silicon Labs, Samsung Electronics, Yale Locks and Big Ass Fans to form the Thread Group to create one. The standard will offer interoperable connectivity in the home, designed in a way that leverages existing layers of the web stack, offering end-to-end security and ease of use.
Long story short: we need to leverage the learnings from the evolution of the Internet if we expect the IoT to be as big or even a bigger opportunity than the web was in the '90s. The predicted scale of tens to hundreds of billions of connected devices requires a scalable, open, and layered architecture that is ready to evolve over long periods of time. To accomplish this we need to put the right building blocks into place today both in terms of the necessary software components to build devices and services, as well as the ecosystem to support the deployment of solutions.
Come join us on October 1-3 at ARM TechCon 2014 in Santa Clara, CA to hear more about our plans!