Paving the way to the Internet of Things

Machine-to-Machine communications, which address vertical applications, are quickly evolving into the Internet of Things, where devices exchange information with each other, explain Herbert Blaser and Carl Fenger of u-blox

Paving the way to the  Internet of Things

It’s set to be the perfect combination for the Internet of Things (IoT): the rapid growth of high-speed cellular networks, short-range wireless communications such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and the introduction of IP version 6, which has enough IP addresses for every grain of sand on Earth.

Add to this mix the virtually limitless computing and storage capacity of today’s cloud-based computing which has made extremely powerful applications available to even the most modest end-devices.

The result is a perfect ecosystem for the rise of IoT, a world where every car, phone, sensor, meter, machine, sales terminal, sign, toy, camera, and healthcare device is wirelessly connected to the internet via high-speed connection. Add a global positioning receiver, and you have a compact, always-connected, location-aware internet ‘Thing’ that possesses the computing power of a server farm with low power-consumption, small size and complete freedom of mobility.

The IoT, home to 50 billion devices by 2020
Until recently, the internet has been mainly dedicated to human-to-human and human-to-machine communications. This has resulted in a diverse range of smartphones, tablets and gaming devices which provide us with a large range of communication, information, business and entertainment possibilities.

Even with multiple devices per human being, however, growth in the ‘Internet of Humans’ is limited by the population of the planet. Although this market will continue to grow on a linear basis, the exponential growth of internet-connected devices will come from machines and sensors which are growing much faster than the human population. This so called IoT is projected to reach 50 billion connections by 2020 according to Cisco Systems (see Fig.1).

Indeed, by 2020, the number of machines connected to the internet will exceed the number of connected humans.

What will these 50 billion devices consist of?
The question is more easily answered by asking: ‘What device cannot benefit from intelligent control?’ Certainly all energy-consuming machines can benefit from being put in a low-energy state when not in use.
Within the household, home appliances can leverage intelligence delivered over the internet to lower heating, cooling and lighting costs based on who will be arriving at home and when, activate appliances to run during off-peak periods, authorise entry based on facial or fingerprint recognition, or even to switch on your coffee machine based on the actual departure time of your next train (see Fig.2).

Businesses already benefit from automated supply chain management, intelligent energy usage, security and mobile point of sales terminals.

As was the case with human-operated devices such as notebooks and smartphones, all machines that can benefit from intelligence delivered by the internet will ultimately be connected.

What does the IoT look like?
The Internet of Things will consist of billions of data gathering devices. These devices will be vehicle sensors, health monitoring devices, remote video cameras, intrusion detectors, electricity and gas meters, home appliances, traffic sensors, streetlights, etc. All these devices will be wirelessly connected to the cloud (see Fig.3).


In the IoT, a vast amount of information or Big Data will be collected by millions of end-devices and processed by limitless computing and storage resources to deliver new and attractive services, or simply to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

With the availability of small, low-cost global positioning, high-speed cellular and short-range wireless communication devices, the hardware technology is available today to enable a whole new breed of valuable services that will reduce the costs and increase the efficiency of business processes, and provide improved healthcare, security, information, navigation, shopping and convenience to consumers.

The potential for new attractive applications is huge. Here are just four examples:

1.Remote monitoring, security and metering
The IoT will enable cost-effective and covert installation of web-connected devices that will wirelessly report the location of pets and people, transmit electricity, water and gas usage data, and provide 24/7 video monitoring of homes, vehicles, warehouses, shops, and public facilities.

Ubiquitous monitoring of homes, banks, schools, airports, shopping malls, office buildings and hospitals will become common. Cloud-computing will allow storage of video streams, as well as provide powerful capabilities such as vehicle and facial recognition services.

2.Personal health devices
Health monitoring devices and medical equipment with wireless internet connectivity have become a booming application as the population ages. Devices for monitoring blood pressure, medication, and the whereabouts of people suffering from dementia give family and caregivers essential information to facilitate treatment and provide peace of mind.

3.Predictive vehicle navigation
Today’s automotive navigation systems calculate optimal routes based on actual traffic conditions. Very soon ‘smart’ navigation systems connected to the IoT via low-latency LTE will provide an improved route based on actual and predicted traffic conditions derived from information collected from thousands of vehicles and processed in the cloud.

Additional cloud applications will provide attractive services such as automated collision avoidance and heads-up driver displays with recommended lane based on the location and speed of surrounding vehicles.

4.Automated industrial processes
Supply-chain management, just-in-time delivery and optimised storage of goods and components will benefit immensely from the IoT. Most consumer and industrial products today consist of numerous sub-components (in the case of consumer electronics, vehicles and machines, thousands!) sourced from locations all over the world.

This is a perfect example of a complex process that requires location tracking of millions of components (thanks to IPv6!), plus long-range and short-range wireless communications combined with considerable cloud-computing and storage capacity to answer the three critical questions – How?, Where? and When? – required to optimise supply chain processes. How much of a component is in stock? Where is the stock located? When can the components be delivered to the factory location?

M2M and the IoT: Today versus Tomorrow
Today’s M2M applications cannot yet be called the Internet of Things as they address vertical applications, and do not exchange information with each other, similar to the reason the EU cannot be described as the Europe of Everything, as each country has its own language, laws and ways of doing business internally.

Characteristics of today’s M2M applications
• Proprietary protocols and technologies
• ‘Silo’ vertical applications
• Low-bandwidth, decentralised computing and storage
• Not sensitive to network latency
• 2G–3G network based
• Wireless connectivity to the last mile
• Fixed-line connectivity to the last metre

These applications can generally be described as depending on proprietary technology and protocols, low bandwidth connections, de-centralised computing and storage, and not yet extending to the ‘edge’ of the internet.

Indeed, most electronic devices in use today do not have an internet connection. This is true of most home appliances, most vehicles, electronic signage, traffic signals, utility meters, vending machines, security, heating and cooling systems, fuel pumps, street lights, etc., the list is long.

Tomorrow’s IoT M2M applications
Next generation IoT M2M applications will depend on high-speed, low-latency cellular communications, widespread adoption of short-range radio for last hundreds of metres of connectivity, and the adoption of IPv6 to allow virtually limitless addressing to billions of devices. Cloud computing and open standards will deliver powerful computing power to the edge of the internet, and allow sharing of data between platforms.

Characteristics of the next generation IoT applications
• Open protocols, standard technologies
• Cloud computing to crunch Big Data
• Low network latency to ensure Quality of Service
• High bandwidth cellular connectivity to the last mile (e.g. LTE, HSPA+)
• Short range communications for last hundreds of metres of connectivity (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi)

The IoT is now essentially ready on the hardware level to host an unimaginable variety of applications that are able to communicate with, monitor and control every electronic device on Earth. The next step is to ‘get things connected’.

Getting connected to the Internet of Things
To help engineers jumpstart the design of IoT applications, u-blox and ARM have developed the C027 ARM mbed-enabled Internet of Things starter kit providing out-of-the-box cellular internet connectivity based on a compact u-blox 2G (SARA-G3), 3G (SARA-U2/LISA-U2) or CDMA (LISA-C200) cellular modem (LTE coming soon) plus global positioning module.

The kit is powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 32-bit processor and provides simple USB drag-n-drop programming and debugging. The C027 is supported by cost-free access to the resources of the ARM mbed development platform which includes a cookbook of tested APIs for web, wireless, audio, sensor and peripheral interfacing, visit https://mbed.org/platforms/u-blox-C027 for details.

For complete details about the C027 IoT Starter Kit, visit: www.u-blox.com/c027-internet-of-things-starter-kit.html

Short-range wireless connectivity: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
To provide the last few hundred metres of wireless connectivity, the u-blox ODN-W160 is a ready-to-embed Internet of Things short-range communications module designed for industrial, vehicle, medical and other demanding applications.

The module offers multi-radio capability across Bluetooth v2.1+EDR, Bluetooth v4.0, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n. It is a Bluetooth ‘dual-mode’ module (Bluetooth Smart Ready) that supports both Classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth low energy.

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