In the week the UK government announces an extra £1.6m of funding into the Internet of Things (IoT) standard, Hypercat, CBR identifies five problems that could jeopardise its success.
Too many standards
With the IoT, 212 billion devices are expected to connect to the Internet by 2020, according to IDC, and yet they are mostly disconnected from each other.
Hypercat, a thin interoperability layer, aims to solve this problem by allowing devices, such as lamp posts and smart meters, to interact with each other. But there are other competing standards such as Thread, the Open Interconnect Consortium and the AllSeen Alliance that claim to do just the same.
And although Hypercat is already backed by 40 British-based companies, including heavyweight names, such as BT, ARM, BAE and IBM, there is always the possibility that companies could put their weight behind one of the other competing standards.
Either that or they’ll eventually have to learn how to work together and create one standard for everyone else.
There’s also a plethora of proprietary technologies which could be used to connect IoT devices, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, Zigbee and Weightless. But commercial success doesn’t work by trying to be a "dog in the manger", according to Lord Erroll, chairman of the Chairman of the Hyper/CAT Advisory Board.
He told CBR: "What you don’t want to happen is when you have a situation like you have in the document world, where you’ve got the open standards and the Microsoft standards.
"They’ve both ended up as being separate standards. It became a huge commercial battle and I think that was a pity because you can’t quite freely interchange stuff….It’s just Microsoft being difficult and greedy.
"And that’s what I’d hate to see happen with IoT. Some of the things will increase safety, enhance your ability to move around and efficiency and if none of these things can talk to each other you can’t develop the application that will people in their normal life.
Knowledge & expertise
While most of the value in IoT is expected come from manufacturing, healthcare, transport, agriculture and education, a lack of employees with specialist knowledge could prevent wider IoT adoption.
Jonny Voon, lead technologist for Technology at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), told CBR:
"The challenge is trying to add value and to convey what value IoT has for a business. Say if you’re talking to a farmer – what value does IoT for that? Because if you start talking about sensors and big data and meta data, then it’s lost on someone in farming."
"So how do you make it easier for these people to discover other services that they can then build and commercialise services from."
A built-in layer of security will have to be developed during the second phase of the project to ensure Hypercat avoids the same problems as the Internet, according to Lord Erroll.
"If there isn’t a lot of security, it’s going to make life more difficult. One of the problems with the Internet, for instance, it was never built for having security built in," he explained.
"You’ve got to build security at the end points and that’s always been some of the difficulties that people have had with the Internet. Maybe we can have an interoperability there where you can exchange and read data, which would have security built in.
"If you’re doing these things, you’ve got to start thinking ahead and putting some of the structures in that you know you will need in the future, even though you’re not going to implement them on day one."
Government has a role to ensure the success of Hypercat, but knowing what kind of role it should play is another challenge, says TSB’s Voon.
"Should government dictate standards? Should government regulate, observe or provide? And that’s one aspect that central and also local government are looking quite carefully at. Because we don’t want to stifle innovation, we don’t want to stifle business but in the same way we want to make sure that it benefits the UK economy and that startups aren’t left behind," he said.
Last month, Ofcom said it is seeking industry input on plans to bolster investment, policy support and innovation in technologies related to Internet of Things (IoT).