TechMan: Standards online must stay open

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The Internet of Things is happening now as more and more objects in our daily life get the ability to communicate with each other.

Already cars, appliances, tablet computers and phones have this ability. In the future so will doors, thermostats, exercise equipment, lighting fixtures and eventually almost everything that is brought home from a store, from food to toys.

This growth of connectivity already has started to engender change.

Because of the explosion of objects being connected to the Internet, the current addressing system, IPv4, has blown through its 4.3 billion available IP addresses. (To be on the Internet, a device must have an IP address so it can be found and communicated with.)

So the conversion to IPv6, which offers an inexhaustible supply of addresses, has begun.

Another effect is the market growth for wireless connectivity chips. According to ABI Research, more than 5 billion such chips will ship in 2013. That includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC and other less-well-known formats.

"Really, any kind of consumer device is getting wireless chips," Peter Cooney, an analyst for ABI, told venturebeat.com.

"In 2013 cumulative shipments of Bluetooth-enabled devices will surpass 10 billion and Wi-Fi enabled devices will surpass 10 billion cumulative shipments in 2015," he said.

Much of this communication by and from objects will involve radio-frequency identification.

That already is being used for keeping track of inventory on a commercial level; but in the home, for example, your milk jug could tell your refrigerator that it is nearly empty and the refrigerator could use the Internet to enter "milk" on the shopping list on your cell phone.

TechMan has written about this before, so what brings it to the front of his tortured mind again?

Ten companies recently announced that they are forming the Internet of Things Consortium, a group that will promote standards for devices' communication.

Of these companies, most are startups or young companies in the field.

Logitech, the Swiss company that makes everything from headphones to keyboards, is probably the only name most people would recognize.

"The successful adoption of [machine-to-machine] and connected home technologies is dependent on open standards," said Utz Baldwin, CEO of Ube, one of the companies taking part, in a release.

The important thing in that statement is the term "open standards."

You will say that this is just a committee and everyone knows that committees don't get much done. But this time it needs to.

Suppose your milk jug tells your refrigerator it is almost empty, but when your refrigerator tries to add that to your shopping list on your iPhone, it can't because Apple doesn't use or support communications from your refrigerator brand.

With a standard, every device "talks the same language." And an open standard is not controlled by government or industry.

One reason the World Wide Web has been so successful is that it has open standards -- no government or company owns or controls the Web.

And that is exactly how the Internet of Things must be.

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Read TechMan's blog at post-gazette.com/techman. Watch or listen to TechTalk at multimedia.post-gazette.com.


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