Networking the Internet of Things

The Starfish wireless network has been launched by Silver Spring Networks for the Internet of Things.
Published: Wed 04 May 2016

The Internet of Things is arguably one of the greatest innovations of our era. Over the past two decades the growth of cellular technology and the interconnectivity it has brought has transformed every aspect of how we live. As more and more devices  gain intelligence and interconnectivity the further transformations that will result are as broad as one’s imagination and, what a mere few years ago was considered as science fiction, will soon become fact.

Imagine traffic lights being continually adjusted to match changing vehicle flows, streetlighting that adaptively adjusts to movement beneath it or as a driver being guided to empty parking spaces by your mobile.

With the prospect of 50 billion connected devices by 2020 ranging from meters to sensors in a whole variety of devices as smart cities and the Internet of Things build out, the infrastructure to support this is critical.

IoT requirements

There are several obvious key requirements that must be met.

One of these is that it is standards-based. Technologies from different vendors must be interoperable and devices must be plug-and play. The era of a proprietary technology on the scale of for example, a utility service area is long past with the restrictions it incurs, not least the single vendor control.

Another key requirement is scalability. No network will be put in its entirety from the outset and will require expansion to cover increasing areas and/or increasing device volumes as the project roadmap evolves. Many smart city developments are being initiated as pilots in limited areas with a view to later geographic expansion. Many IoT developments are being founded on energy and water and the footprints of the respective utilities with prospect to subsequent integration of other applications. [Engerati-Smart Cities Take Shape Around Energy And Water]

Yet another is a high degree of reliability. Witness the public furore when any of the social networks go offline for any length of time and failures will not build confidence or support for the technology. Indeed, in a smart city context, even a brief outage could prove serious and should be limited to the smallest possible area.

Built-in security

Underlying all of these is the security requirements. Cyber attacks are known to be a growing problem for utilities with the potential to impact a large number of consumers. [see e.g. Engerati-Electricity Authorities Face Severe Cybersecurity Attacks] A cyber attack on a smart city could impact a greater number of people and could cause chaos or worse. Imagine if the traffic lights were hacked and all switched to green or the smart traffic signboards were hacked and terrorist type messages displayed. In a worst case, mass panic could result.

A final consideration in this context is ownership of the network. Traditionally utilities own their networks and in only very rare cases has there been a sharing by two utilities. [Engerati-A Water Connected Future] An IoT network will likely be utilized by numerous organizations. One option, as is being undertaken in the Envision Charlotte initiative, is for it to fall under the project company, in this case a non-profit organization comprised of the founding partners. [Engerati-Envision America – Ten Smart Cities Take Shape]

An international platform for IoT

As network provides the telcos are increasingly looking to the energy and IoT markets for future growth and revenue opportunities and there are obvious synergies. [Engerati-Australian Telco Seizes Opportunities in the Energy Market] However, cellular networks also have restrictions, such as dead zones and intermittency of services. Thus for utility applications which increasingly require (near) real-time connectivity, alternatives are required.

One example is the Itron Riva platform, which combines edge intelligence with dynamic communications via RF wireless and PLC. [Engerati-Energy Sector Leads Internet of Things]

Another example is Silver Spring Networks’ recently launched Starfish, which is based on the international wireless IPv6 network service and leverages the company’s latest Gen5 networking platform technology and the 802.15.4g WPAN meshing technology, which is also supported by the Wi-SUN Alliance.

The initial rollout of Starfish includes collaborations with the Bristol is Open (BIO) smart city programme in UK, CESC in Kolkata, India, and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and a demonstration partnership with the City of San Jose in the US. Other planned rollouts include the City of San Antonio, Texas, Glasgow in Scotland and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Further reading

Silver Spring Networks: Enabling the IoT transformation

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