Open standards are the only way to future-proof IoT solutions

Phil Beecher, President and CEO of Wi-SUN Alliance

There is still debate and confusion over whether open standards are the best in terms of security and robustness. If you want to future-proof your IoT solutions, then open standards are the only way forward for scalability, flexible operational practice and security.

future city1

A major benefit of basing IoT solutions on open standards is that there is more opportunity to develop and evolve solutions continuously. It means that you are not dependent on just one vendor, as there are more providers to choose from, which leads to greater choice in finding the best solutions and better prices. If you chose a closed or proprietary solution, you have immediately limited your options and scalability.

If you lock yourself into one particular supplier and one solution, you give up flexibility. Solutions that are built on open standards, supported by a certification program for interoperability, provide the network operator with a choice of vendors, competitive pricing and the confidence of a continuity of supply.

IoT is already transforming towns and cities with the goal of enhancing the lives of both consumers and organizations alike. There are many unknowns, but one thing is certain: those cities that implement their IoT initiatives on an ecosystem using open standards will derive greater benefits than those who don’t.

There is a misconception that proprietary technology can offer better security than open standards – “security through obscurity”. In fact, one of the advantages of open standards is that they are carefully designed and reviewed by a large community of experts. This community constantly analyzes vulnerabilities, updating if necessary and this helps to improve security. Proprietary solutions, which are typically created by one company, do not benefit from the large community of experts.

However, you cannot automatically equate high security and open standards. It’s important to understand how devices connect to the network and communicate and to monitor the network for abnormal activity.
Choosing open standards-based solutions provides greater flexibility, availability, scalability and security for an IoT network. But there are other considerations: for example, the way the network is organized (topology) plays an important part in determining the coverage and reliability of an IoT network, because this can also have an impact on the robustness and flexibility of your future network. With this in mind, it is important to choose a network technology that meets current and future application needs.
Mesh networking technology has a proven track record of providing ubiquitous coverage and seamless connectivity, with great resilience and reliability. Imagine a supplier is using a tower-based solution, i.e. the signal to your network is dependent on networking towers around the country. If one day a reinforced concrete building is constructed between the tower and your IoT solution and this blocks the signal, you're in trouble. Constructing new towers is expensive, and your provider is unlikely to build a new tower to deliver 100% coverage. Using a mesh-based solution where your devices will forward messages if one connection is not functioning provides greater flexibility.

In a mesh network, there are always multiple communication paths - and you are guaranteed robustness and flexibility.

Wi-SUN took part in a panel discussion – “IoT Connectivity, licensed, unlicensed or both” – at IoT World Europe on 13th June alongside IHS Markit Technology, Orange, Weightless SIG and oneM2M.

How can telco carriers prepare for smart city development?

Phil Beecher, President and CEO of Wi-SUN Alliance

telcos 1

Much has been made of the market opportunities within the Internet of Things (IoT) and particularly smart cities. Smart city investment is increasing rapidly, and on a European level alone, the EU has set aside billions of Euros in funding for smart city projects up to 2020.[1]  For these to succeeed, various stakeholders will need to work together to deliver a truly interoperable smart city development. 

Telco carriers are as aware as anyone about the potential size of the market and are playing an important role, but may be missing a trick. Smart cities require robust, efficient and reliable connections, which means the technology in place must be able to support them.

Many of the big operators have already been preparing for large scale IoT and smart city deployments, initially adopting network technologies such as Sigfox and LoRA, and more recently we are beginning to see the deployment of Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). While NB-IoT might overcome some of the problems of other low power wide area (LPWA) technologies, it is still a tower-based, “hub and spoke” technology, so it remains to be seen if it will provide the ubiquitous coverage required for IoT devices, as well as support very low power devices requiring battery lifetimes of 10 years or more. 

The problem is that tower-oriented IoT network topologies are very much aimed towards centralized data collection and processing, and are not optimized for sensor/actuator applications in critical infrastructure monitoring and control, which benefit from edge computing techniques. This means that network service providers may well miss out on major opportunities in the growth of smart city applications if they follow the traditional, conservative view of network design.

Lateral thinking and looking towards other network topologies that could complement their existing deployments could well benefit telecoms service providers.

There is already a tremendous amount of experience of differing network topologies gained by those operating in the utility industry. Projects, such as advanced meter infrastructure, which utilize heterogenous networks comprising a wireless mesh canopy, such as the Wi-SUN Field Area Network (FAN) connected to a backhaul network using LTE, fibre or similar, provide excellent coverage cost effectively, with very low latency, good support for distributed computing and high resilience and reliability under often adverse conditions.  

A Wi-SUN FAN is complementary to cellular technology and will enable the operators to expand their service offerings to customers by deploying a mix of different technologies giving access to a range of  different applications. Not only will this deliver improved customer experience with reduced costs, but also it will provide an opportunity to grow their business as a services provider. 

ESB Telecoms, for example, plans to create a nationwide Wi-SUN compatible wireless mesh IoT network. The envisioned network will serve as a catalyst for municipal, commercial and industrial customers to connect IoT and smart city applications and devices.  

Partnerships between telcos, city councils and smart city developers to use existing street furniture, such as street lighting poles, would enable cost effective deployment of mesh networks to interconnect with the cellular network using existing infrastructure.

The role of telcos in the development of smart cities and the implementation of IoT strategies cannot be underestimated, not just in developing new revenue streams, but also in helping to make communities more sustainable and efficient.

Getting the right network in place is critical.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/inea/en/horizon-2020/smart-cities-communities

Why momentum is gathering for Wi-SUN technology

by Phil Beecher, President, The Wi-SUN Alliance

The momentum of support for Wi-SUN technology is really beginning to gather pace and this has been echoed by a sharp spike in growth of the Wi-SUN Alliance membership base of 60 per cent over the past year.  The backing for Wi-SUN has been reinforced still further by independent research from Rethink Technology which estimates that companies in the Wi-SUN ecosystem are set to enjoy continued growth at 20% CAGR, as mesh network technology begins to reach into new verticals and different business models are developed or implemented. 

We have welcomed 70 new members to the consortium in the past 12 months including product vendors and utility companies to take our total membership figures to 180.  There are four tiers of membership available: Promoters, Contributors, Adopters and Observers. Together with 19 new Contributors, 47 new Adopters and 2 Observers, we also added two new Promoter members: Itron, who acquired Silver Spring Networks earlier this year, became Promoters in January 2017 and Landis + Gyr Technology became Promoter members in September 2017.  Both of these organisations have nominated members of their staff to become Directors of the Wi-SUN Board.

We have been and continue to look at new ways in which we can expand our membership. Recent changes in the wireless spectrum have created market opportunities and in reply, we have made a concerted effort to reach telecoms carriers across Europe as well as more vendors and utility operators.

As an organisation the Alliance has a truly global reach with representation in every corner of the world from Asia Pacific (Australia, China, India, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Taiwan), the Americas (Brazil, Canada, USA), Europe (Denmark, Finland, France, Spain, Sweden, UK) and South Africa.  Between them, these globally recognised member companies offer more than 80 products creating an ecosystem that currently stretches to a phenomenal 89 million Wi-SUN capable devices worldwide (Navigant Research: https://www.navigantresearch.com/).

As the leading technology in large-scale outdoor networking, Wi-SUN is the most widely deployed IoT technology worldwide and the opportunity to extend this support and growth even further is huge as we push ahead with our Field Area Network (FAN) certification program.

Membership of the Wi-SUN Alliance is open to all industry stakeholders and includes silicon vendors, product vendors, services providers, utilities, universities, enterprises and municipalities and local government organisations. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of joining the Wi-SUN Alliance, please view the following video of Colton Ching, Senior Vice President Planning & Technology, Hawaiian Electric Company: Colton Ching at Wi-SUN Members Meeting. Please visit here to obtain more information on becoming a member.

Contact us at the Wi-SUN Alliance today to become a member.

The Path to FAN Certification

by Phil Beecher, President, The Wi-SUN Alliance

Certifying your product under the Wi-SUN Alliance’s FAN profile can give your customers added confidence in your solution. Here’s how it works.

Since our formation in 2012, we at the Wi-SUN Alliance have been driving the adoption of interoperable smart networks. These are the networks that will help to monitor and regulate the delivery of modern services, ranging from electrical power through to lighting. They help control smart streetlamps to keep our thoroughfares well lit. They govern the flow of traffic, safely guiding citizens on the move.

These ubiquitous networks support a rapidly-evolving society. They must be reliable and secure. For that to happen, the devices underpinning this infrastructure must behave predictably and in line with industry standards.

While the IEEE and other standards organisations define those standards, the Wi-SUN Alliance creates the technical specifications for implementing them in real-world situations. It is also responsible for certifying those implementations.

The benefits of certification

At the end of February, the Alliance held a webinar to explain how product vendors can gain the seal of approval under the Wi-SUN Certification Program. Certification brings benefits to both users and product vendors.  Products carrying the Wi-SUN CERTIFIED logo provide customers with peace of mind that their products comply with industry standards and work with other products on the market.

An additional benefit of the Wi-SUN testing and certification program is that it enables product vendors to access test equipment as well as participate in ‘plugfests’ and test events, vital accelerate the development cycle and improving confidence and equipment compliance and therefore reducing cost of certification testing

Wi-SUN’s Field Area Network (FAN) specification provides a framework for deploying interoperable, multi-service, secure IPv6 over wireless mesh networks in line with the global IEEE 802.15.4g/u/v standards. This specification is vital for next-generation services, such as advanced metering infrastructure and distribution automation, in which utility meters and equipment can not only communicate information back to the utility data management systems, but also directly between each other, enabling improved mechanisms for applications such as power outage and restoration management and electrical vehicle charging.

FAN is becoming a vital component in the creation of smart cities. Intelligent street lighting, deployed using a canopy mesh networks, enables a range of additional services such as city-wide traffic management and parking systems, and provides reliable, FAN-certified deployments to communicate mission-critical, real-time information. It is crucial that these deployments are rock solid.

Wi-SUN’s FAN specification handles everything below the application layer, from physical to transport. It dictates everything from discovery and registration on the network through to frequency hopping and IPv6 functions, including routing and unicast/multicast forwarding. The FAN specification integrates robust cyber security, including device authentication, using 802.1AR certificates and key management, message encryption and integrity verification.

The FAN technical profile specification specifies the communications behaviour of equipment. There is also a certification test plan, which describes how products will be tested to ensure compliance to the profile specification. Wi-SUN Alliance has recruited a network of independent testing laboratories to conduct the necessary testing.

The certification process

To certify their products under the FAN specification, organizations must submit a request to one of these laboratories. When the product vendor applies to the test lab, the lab checks with Wi-SUN to ensure that the vendor is in good standing before scheduling the test.

Products must pass two types of test to gain FAN certification. The first, known as the conformance test, ensures that the device conforms to the specification itself using specialized testing equipment. The second checks the device’s interoperability with reference implementations to make sure that it will work with other devices certified under FAN.

The tests use a test bed controller to execute a script controlling 14 separate devices from different vendors, known as test bed units. The testing environment collects traffic between these units and the devices under test using the Wireshark packet sniffer.

Upon completion, the test lab will provide the product vendor with a test report.

The product vendor may now submit necessary application for certification to the Wi-SUN Alliance certification program manager.  This paperwork includes the test report from the test lab and a declaration of conformance with the protocol along with any extra information needed for testing, and an Application for Wi-SUN Certification form. The vendor can also request the product to be listed on the Wi-SUN website. Wi-SUN can assist the product vendor to ensure that the application paperwork is in order, which processes the product certification and issues a paper certificate and an invoice to the vendor.

After certification, the vendor must then arrange for the installation of digital certificates in manufactured product, either from GlobalSign, which has been approved as the Alliance’s certificate authority, or by approval of the manufacturer’s own CA management. The vendor applies for an account, which GlobalSign sets up after checking with Wi-SUN to ensure that the vendor is in good standing. After GlobalSign processes the payment, the vendor can request the digital certificate digitally via a batch or REST-based API request.

FAN certification is dependent on geographic / regulatory region.  Wi-SUN is rolling out support for FAN certification in 19 regulatory domains, beginning with America (using the 902–928 MHz band), Japan (920-928 MHz) and Korea, followed by India (865-867 MHz), Europe (970-876 MHz) and South East Asia.

Wi-SUN’s network of approved testing labs is growing, but includes Telec and TUV Rheinland Japan for the Japanese region along with TUV Rheinland USA for America.

Vendors are eager to guarantee consistency and reliability for customers building next-generation smart, ubiquitous networks.

Contact us at the Wi-SUN Alliance today to discuss your certification needs and give customers the confidence that they need to invest in your solution.

Global organisations storm ahead with IoT implementations but challenges persist

by Phil Beecher, President, The Wi-SUN Alliance

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With just a few days to go before the DistribuTECH conference and exhibition opens its doors to visitors from around the global, the Wi-SUN Alliance is putting the final touches in place to greet members, partners and guests to its booth no. 2861. Please do come along to say hello and find out more about our new industry research report ‘The Rise of the Internet of Things’.

5888 Origin Wi SUN Infographic WEB

The Internet of Things (IoT) has the power and potential to transform businesses and change the lives of citizens. It’s already happening around the world — from Birmingham to Bangalore and from New York to New South Wales. But just how fast is this digital transformation happening, what’s driving it, and where are the main challenges for organizations in utilities, smart cities and other industrial markets? That’s exactly what we set out to discover with this piece of research compiled from interviews with IT decision makers in the UK, US, Denmark and Sweden.

It reveals that IoT implementation is happening further and faster than perhaps many imagine: over half (51%) of those investing have already fully implemented an IoT strategy.

Driving success

This is an impressive vote of confidence in IoT — with sectors including oil and gas (75%), technology (59%) and energy and utilities (57%) seeing even greater numbers of organizations with fully implemented strategies.

But just why is IoT becoming so popular? The key drivers seem to be improving citizen safety and quality of life (47%), creating business efficiencies (42%) and improving the reliability of systems (41%).

Some 99% of IT decision makers say they are already seeing some clear benefits — most notably business efficiencies (54%), but also improvements to the customer experience (49%), collaboration (48%), reduced costs (45%) and faster time-to-market (40%).

Struggling with IoT

However, almost all (90%) respondents claim to have struggled with these projects.

Given the increase of real-world IoT-related cyber threats in the news, it’s perhaps not surprising that security is by far the biggest concern. With power stations being shut down by hackers in the Ukraine and Russian agents attacking the UK’s critical infrastructure, these are very real concerns.

But they’re not insurmountable, as long as we aim for enterprise-grade security across all IoT networks. That’s why we as Wi-SUN ensure devices are upgradable over-the-air to stay protected at all times, and are rendered unable to connect if the firmware has been replaced by an unauthorized third party. Other security controls enforced by the Wi-SUN Alliance include strong encryption and authentication of all network traffic, and frequency-hopping capabilities to combat eavesdropping and signal jamming. It’s the kind of multi-layered protection that IT leaders told us they now demand for smart cities (50%) and smart utilities (44%).

Aside from security, IT decision makers say they also encountered challenges around obtaining funding and getting leadership to support projects (both 32%). This illustrates the continuing need for IT bosses to communicate with the Board in language it understands, perhaps by sharing some of the many real-world examples that exist to show the value of IoT to the organisation.

Support for standards

The good news is that our research reveals strong support for open industry standards of the sort the Wi-SUN Alliance is promoting to drive IoT success across all industries. Over half say standardization is what they are looking for when evaluating these technologies. Other key criteria included network topology (58%) and communications performance (53%).

It’s heartening to see respondents so advanced in their planning and understanding of networking — with most (53%) favouring a combination of star- and mesh-based networks. We’re also glad to see IT bosses prioritizing latency and bandwidth; another area where Wi-SUN can help organizations’ IoT implementations.

We are delighted that IT decision makers are most likely to be familiar with Wi-SUN (56%) over other network technologies. It made us proud of the work we are doing and continue to do.

We continue to forge ahead with new standards, incorporating the latest technical innovations whilst crucially ensuring backwards compatibility for organizations. And we will continue our efforts to improve education and awareness in the industry, especially in areas like security where concerns are holding back deployments.

We’ve come a long way in a short space of time, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

DistribuTECH takes place on January 23-25 2018 at the Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. Visitors to the Wi-SUN booth no. 2861 can hear more about the progress made with the Field Area Network (FAN) Profile and Certification Program as we continue to work rigorously towards the introduction of FAN Certified products later this year. Now is the time to get on board to learn what it takes to make sure your products are compliant. 

Wi-SUN will also be co-hosting a ‘lunch and learn’ event with security partner GlobalSign on Weds January 24, to explain new methods and technology available for end-to-end wireless security for utilities, smart cities and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). For more information and to register for the Wi-SUN and GlobalSign event, visit here.

 

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