As you read this, IoT (Internet of Things) is launching the next big leap in the technology. The IoT is creating new businesses that are developing innovative products that reach across industries and into homes and businesses.
It’s called “Internet of Things” because any object, material or thing connected to the Internet directly or indirectly [technically, anything which has an IP (ipv4 /ipv6) or can talk to a master module with its own protocol (Wi-Fi / Bluetooth /ZigBee)] can be part of the IoT system. The IoT will revolutionize education, e-commerce, science, transport, medical care and more. In fact, a recent report suggests that, by 2020, 50 billion devices will be online. The possibilities are endless!
Challenges for IoT
Not surprisingly, greater opportunities bring bigger challenges, and connected IoT devices face two – connecting the hardware and integrating the software. Let’s focus on the challenges of the software -and propose some solutions.
- Discovery- When a device becomes available (when it “comes online”), how does the network discover that it is now online and available to receive or send communication/information?
- Access – Once network recognizes that a device is available, how does the system “decide” whether to authorize, authenticate and allow access to this device?
A New Perspective (IoT devices as users on a messaging platform)
Consider every IoT device to be a user (just like any other user on WhatsApp/Line/Skype) on any holistic messaging platform. At the root, the lowest common denominator between IoT devices, sensors, apps, systems, networks, etc. is nothing but communication or “messaging” — i.e. an exchange of data (“talk”) between devices, users and systems.
Let’s see how it can solve the problem of discovery and access.
- Scenario 1: IoT at Conference Rooms
Assume you create a group on a popular messaging application, add your friends or colleagues to it, and share an image. Who can see this picture and comment on it? – Only the members of your group.
Now assume that your messaging app can also talk to the devices in your office conference room (as if they are users, too). The moment you enter the conference room, the app (actually, the system) identifies you and adds you automatically to the conference room chat group. Now not only can you chat with other participants (people) in the conference room, but with the conference room’s resources, like the lights, projector, AC, telephone systems, etc. And when you leave the conference room, the system removes you from the group and blocks your access to the room’s resources.
- Scenario 2: IoT for Domestic Use
How might you use IoT at home? Say your electric meter or water meter pings you “on chat” and reminds you to pay the bill. Say “Yes,” and the respective systems will pay bills. Was the bill higher than you expected? Then switch off your resources (shut off the lights, turn down the AC, cancel the lawn sprinkler, etc.) with the same “chat” app. Invite guests for the weekend and add them to your chatting/messaging group so that they can adjust the lights, AC, or hot tub. Once they leave, remove them from your home’s access group.
- Scenario 3: IoT and Hospitality Industry
In the commercial world, one major issue that hotel guests face is Wi-Fi connectivity, perhaps due to low signal strength or faulty routers. When a guest calls the reception desk to complain, the receptionist calls the technician to get it fixed. This manual process can break down at many points, such as, if receptionist is busy when the guest calls or if the technician misses her call. With IoT, however, the router/hub identifies a drop in signal strength and notifies the technician, who responds with a “Yes” on the chat app. If the technician is busy, the system notifies the floor manager. The whole service request flows automatically before the guests even notice the signal drop.
- Scenario 4: IoT for Industrial Use
As we’ve seen, IoT lets users communicate with their office equipment and hotel personnel communicate with their technicians. It also enables industrial systems to communicate with each other and coordinate their data analytics to improve performance and efficiency and to reduce or eliminate downtime.
For example, when industrial equipment on a factory floor detects minute changes in its operations, it can “chat” with the appropriate company technician and schedule preventative maintenance on the suspect component. Before management even noticed the problem, the “chat” application reduced the likelihood of a component failure and prevented the downtime that could have cost millions of dollars.
How Secure is IoT:
Today, security is a critical consideration in any internet application, whether for industry or the home. Since IoT applications interact with thousands of sensors and nodes, they are vulnerable if security is compromised. Although we most often hear about data being stolen during a security breach, data injected into the system is at least as lethal.
Understandably, all communication between IoT components must be highly secure. Millions of dollars’ worth resources are at risk.
So any successful IoT messaging platform has to manage these key elements aspects of security –
- Authorization: Only authorized IoT devices & servers can send or receive data.
- Port management: There can be no open ports “listening” on the Internet.
- Encryption: The system must ensure end-to-end encryption of all messages (data).
The Clear Advantage: “Devices as Users” Is the IoT Solution
The IoT will revolutionize the way we live, work and play. It will also revolutionize the way businesses work. While the design of a successful IoT system may be complex, the best approach is simple—
Treat each device as a user in a messaging platform. This simplifies IoT’s key challenges:
- IoT device / resource management becomes as simple as adding / removing a user from a chat group.
- While all system devices interact over the Internet, they are less vulnerable because they communicate in a group paradigm that restricts direct
- All relevant sensors / devices work together in a group to accomplish any workflow / task.
In short, IoT now empowers business and personal users in ways that only a science fiction writer could have imagined. While the challenges seem complex, one simple solution emerges: “Messaging is the right IoT platform.”