Opinion: How a device "Bill of Rights" can make the IoT even better

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/oersin)

The Internet of Things is generating a lot of buzz these days. Now, more devices are connected to the Internet than there are people on this planet, and an estimated 50 billion Internet-connected devices will exist by 2020.

Though this rapidly growing popularity is exciting, most of the conversation surrounding IoT has had the wrong focus. We tend to emphasize the various wireless network technologies available rather than examine IoT from the device’s perspective.

In order for true IoT connectivity to be realized, there needs to be a set of design standards for device developers to follow — in other words, a device bill of rights.

The present controller of IoT development

Because of the absence of a bill of rights, the world of IoT is being controlled by the most popular and consumer-visible parties: cellular carriers.

Consumers are constantly looking for the best and fastest cellular technology, and carriers are responding by churning through network evolutions. We’ve gone from 2G to 3G to 4G in rapid succession, and we’ll be to 5G and 6G before we know it.

While network improvements certainly aren’t a bad thing, cellular carriers ignore a lot of IoT devices as they strive to provide the latest and greatest technology for voice and data communications. Most IoT devices are considered secondary on the connectivity food chain because they consume lower bandwidth and contribute significantly less revenue per unit than the smartphones that cellular companies have grown to love. Machine-to-machine devices that are high-volume yet low-priority are simply tagalong items for carriers these days.

Why a "Bill of Rights" is necessary

A bill of rights would shift our focus to devices and their inherent needs. If developers were given a list of attributes universally adopted across the market, carriers would be forced to do what it takes to support a machine network.

Collaborating and operating on an ISM band that isn’t dependent on voice and data would increase competition and result in better, more secure devices. The customer is the big winner in this situation, experiencing increased efficiencies, added services, network reliability, and device longevity.

Several rules should be considered when drafting this bill of rights, but these five in particular will address exactly what IoT devices should expect from their wireless connectivity:

1. Developers should focus on machine-exclusive wireless connectivity.

Wireless connectivity cannot be influenced by human-connectivity needs, as it is human-driven progress that created the impermanent nature of today’s product life cycle. Machine-driven wireless technology puts the machine’s needs first, which means that other network users don’t take precedence. The result of machine-driven progress is a device life cycle that can last for a decade or longer.

2. All IoT devices must be designed for full security.

The larger the IoT network gets, the more opportunities it presents to hackers. Tests have shown that current IoT devices have troubling vulnerabilities. The IoT network and the devices on it must possess security characteristics that allow them to safely and securely deliver connectivity as well as the capability to undergo firmware upgrades. Messaging must be confidential, and device developers should strive for mutual authentication and multicast authenticity. Finally, everything must adhere to standards-based security guidelines.

3. Developers should work to extend the battery life of IoT devices.

Extremely long battery life will help many devices within the IoT network become cost-effective because they will not need to be touched for many years. IoT devices should be designed to transmit communications quickly and intelligently, but also to sleep and conserve energy when they aren’t transmitting. Intelligent application design also plays a role in battery life, and developers need to work to choose the right battery for their applications.

4. IoT devices must not be made obsolete by network sunsets.

A network usually doesn’t last longer than the devices it serves. Some IoT devices aren’t worth the money unless they are deployed, connected wirelessly, and then never touched again for a decade. Cellular connectivity is hurting the affordability of many IoT devices by constantly upgrading and sunsetting older networks — and this will continue to be the case as long as voice and data trump machine connectivity.

5. The IoT network should provide true two-way communication.

An IoT network functions best when it can handle two-way transmission. This means message acknowledgement as well as downlink and uplink capabilities that can go both ways between network access points and devices. Two-way communication allows for over-the-air upgrades, which means devices can be fixed and upgraded remotely.

Right now, tech producers and wireless providers aren’t taking full advantage of everything the IoT has to offer. Wireless providers are engaged in a cycle of eliminating networks in search of next-generation connectivity, and the consequence of this methodology is perfectly good devices and revenue being left in the dust. In the end, customers suffer from higher prices and lower product quality.

Would a device “Bill of Rights” help the IoT live up to its potential? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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