Thursday, November 25, 2010

Internet of Things: first, there have to be plans…

GIOTC (see for pictures) brought me to Beijing. Compared to Shanghai (I visited earlier this year) Beijing feels much more relaxed, less high-rise, wider spread, less crowed and by far older. The conference took place just next to the remarkable buildings from Olympia 2008.

Zhong Qi, chairman of the Chinese RFID alliance open the conference by emphasizing the importance of the internet of things as a vehicle for growth after financial crisis. As the US have promoted Smart Earth, Europe the IoT development plan [1], South-Korea the u-Korea initiative [2] and Japan the i-Japan program [3], the prime minister of China has identified the Internet of Things as one of the seven key technologies for China. China can build upon the Golden Card project [4], which involves the 940 million ID cards, 2.7 billion banking cards, health insurance cards which adds up to a total of 7 billion RFID-based smart cards in China and suddenly put China 3rd after US and UK. China strongly believes in developing their own technologies and standards while simultaneously recognizing openness and international cooperation as key parameters to success. According to Qi, the growth rate of RFID in China was at 35% throughout the last years.

Florent Frederix from the European Commission motivated the Internet of Things with the on-going trends of miniaturization, mobility, pervasiveness and sensors. He referred to the work being conducted in the funded iot-research cluster focusing on logistics, supply-chain, retail, green buildings, green cars and ehealth. As a counterpart to China’s 12 year development plan he outlined the EU’s IoT action plan [1] which defines governance, privacy, silence of chips, security, standards, public private partnerships, smart cities, informed consumers and IT waste as major steps to be worked on.

Philip Cousin presented the EU-China expert group as a first attempt to exchange ideas on architectures, naming concepts and protocols in EU and China. Zou Liu from the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology and Gao Yanjie from the Ministry of Health reported about achievements and goals in their divisions. It would have been really interesting to learn more specifics about their learnings and their pilots they have performed.

David Boswarthick from ETSI instead mentioning specific business cases or scenarios motivated the emergence of the IoT by the saturation of mobile market (as everybody already has at least one cell phone…), the opportunity of not networked 50-70 billion machines, and the emerging legislation demanding smart systems. He described the development of the Internet of Things as a step-by-step development process which should be also replicated in the corresponding standardization efforts. The requirements of the ETSI platform he outlined as a technology-agnostic multi-purpose service platform providing machine to machine services in an end-to-end fashion while re-using existing standards.

Liu Jianming from the national power provider State Grid impressed me with the astonishing number of 1.6 million employees in his company. Kang Lee from NIST presented the standardization activities in RFID and sensors networks from the US perspective. Wu Donya from CESI promoted OID as China’s open numbering scheme, frankly, looking quite similar to the EPC framework. It's rather questionable how this (old) approach could successfully build upon old legacy [5] being designed for unix machines instead of resource-constrained RFID tags.

Finally, I could talk (slides) about the importance of not limiting the IoT to business corporations but to include the consumer and to provide service for the everyday use. I gave some examples of our work about and and Product Empire. In various discussion I later had offline I was confronted with questions about how brand owners would react about bad comments on their products being spammed by fake users of their competitors. I was told several times that our approach might work in Europe but not in the harsh environment of China where competitors might try everything for fighting each other.

It was very refreshing when Michael Dohler from World Sensing challenged the unbelievable numbers of business research agencies creating hypes and heating up markets. He specifically took the example of 7 trillion networked devices (see how this wrong number travels the world, 140k hits on google!) predicted by WWRF for 2017, which would mean about 10.000 nodes per square meter on earth… He mentioned that the technologies for IoT are basically there, the tricky part would be the optimization for data rate, range and power consumption. He proposed to break up with the old thinking of separated communication layers but to design for bi-directional communication instead: "I talk to my sensors, the sensors can also talk to me.". Finally, he disclosed his approach of not only selling components but bundling them with services and then co-leveraging with big players. Big players, he mentioned IBM, are already established in the market and speak the language of the clients, nobody is interested in sensor data…

In the final panel discussion of day one about future perspectives and challenges, both Chinese and European participants either referred to expert groups or to work reports which would provide the answers soon. While in Europe the funding schemes of the European Commission are remarkable (just outreached by the vast amounts of funding the 14 ministries bear in China!), for natural and sustainable growth in our economies we still need to watch out for real problems and pains which are not found in the scenarios use case sections of work reports...

Next day, Girgio Priester from the Smart Cities initiative motivated the need cities to invest into infrastructure, human capital and, additionally, also in new technologies. He reported about the municipal wi-fi mashup in Barcelona which provides municipal workers (police, inspectors, social workers) with communication. He also mentioned networked parking meters, public lighting optimization and informative panels. This would all sum up in savings of 400kEur/year. Venice was another example. There, a multi-purpose smartcard would allow to use transport, bicycles, museum entries for 90.000 residents and 22 million visitors. The vision is to apply dynamic pricing to distribute the tourists more efficiently over the year. It was not quite clear how this RFID pilot on the old continent does really link to Internet of Things.

Prof.Sangchan Park from Kyung Hee University really contrasted these pilot with not just one but 20 "u-city"'s currently being build in Korea aiming at public services, eco-friendly areas, and promoting u-city as a new lifestyle of the future. While all projects are very much technology-driven the extend, pace, and size is really breath-taking (e.g. Songdo).

Alvaro de Oliveira from living labs in Europe summarized on real-life test and experimentation environments in Europe where users and producers co-create innovations. Living Labs have been characterised by the European Commission as Public-Private-People Partnerships (PPPP) for user-driven open innovation, but not going much beyond pilots.

I perceived it a little foolish when the successes of the future cities and living labs in Europe were praised as IoT success stories. Compared to the mega project in Asia (which yet have to prove their success not to become another Masdar!) they are, if at all, first seeds of the beginning of networked RFID (see also another comment here).

Ramjee Prasad, Devasis Bandyopahdyay, Geir Koien and presented about security and privacy. The tradeoffs between security and comfort, the long-term perspective of privacy, and also the dynamics changing notions of privacy. Looking at the younger generation today: what George Orwell was afraid of the big brother could watch, the digital natives voluntarily shout to cyberspace without any purpose...

Usman Haque from Pachube called for a very pragmatic approach of deriving standards: forming them through gradual implementation. He proposed to be as flexible as you can, make as simple as possible to share data, to include context, to support multiple protocols & adapters, to not sumarize data, but to maintain single points, to help individuals manage data, and to
help companies, cities to provide service. He summarized that as extreme data sharing. He sees the role of pachube to "pipes for the internet o
f things" and to reduce friction to build things for others. He bases his business models on high volume service that pay, while the masses could use this service for free. After his talk, he just disappeared in the crowd of people asking for his business card.
Zhang Jianning from Z-Park was talking about the success of virtual good sellers in China and reminded the audience to thoroughly seek to understand the internet of things and not just running along the hypecycle.
Chen Xianxing from LSD Science and Technology was just going in this direction by pretty
directly promoting his company's wireless devices as well suited for the Internet of Things.
Peng Haixing f
rom Huawei reported about the importance of the IoT from the perspective of network solutions provider.

The final panel discussion concluded that IoT would be more succesful in Europe and Asia due to the strong believe in infrastructure there. I would call this rather sellfish, at least there was no representative from the US participating in this panel. Jusgt to mention that it was the Auto-ID Center at MIT coining the term Internet of Things (see here), it were the giants wallmart and DoD deploying RFID, just look at RFIDJournal for the latest stories. But indeed, I don't see the the big funding schemes for IoT either. Perhaps it's more about top-down (Europe and Asia) or bottom up (USA), e.g. IBM's smarter planet is right on track.

Overall, GIOTC has been a very exciting event for again feeling the power and enthusiasm in China for the Internet of Things. Due to China's scale and its long-term perspective of plans combined with the pace and the once-decided-irreversible-will to implement we could expect large scale IoT implementations, not just pilots, very soon. Whether this will be successfull has yet to be found out.Thus, China should be an exciting environment to work in for the upcoming years.

I was also very happy to feel the spirit of the crazy IoT gang, Rob van Kranenburg, Usman Haque and Mischa Dohler. To be continued!

[1] Commission of the European Communities (2009-06-18). "Internet of Things — An action plan for Europe"

[2] u-Korea Masterplan, 2006

[3] i-Japan Strategy 2015, 2010

[4] China RFID Whitepaper

[5] X.660 : Information technology - Open Systems Interconnection - Procedures for the operation of OSI Registration Authorities: General procedures and top arcs of the ASN.1 Object Identifier tree (link)

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