Connecting the Internet of Things: Interoperability Depends on Protocols

by Daniel Mandell | 08/04/2014


As the hype and potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to grow, we wanted to address some of the key issues concerning device interoperability and developer collaboration. Specifically, we will be looking at some of the most important communications protocols for the IoT today and how industry players are preparing for the future.

A communications protocol is an established system of rules that spells out the specific details for a type of communication between devices. This is distinct from a communications standard, which protocols are built upon and serve as a regular format to enable interoperability.

Four such communications protocols currently gaining the most traction for the development of IoT applications are MQTT, DDS, XMPP, and AMQP.

MQTT is a protocol that compiles data collected from IoT-enabled devices and transmits to back-end servers. MQTT is primarily implemented in remote monitoring applications such as energy use and equipment maintenance. Facebook, for example, is a well-known user of MQTT for its Facebook Messenger application as it is able to function with limited battery power and data bandwidth.

Next, the DDS protocol enables device-to-device communications through transmitting data collected. This type of communication is typically used for high-performance systems such as medical devices, transportation, smart cities, and military devices that require instant connectivity. NASA, for example, has used DDS middleware to support human-to-robot communications from earth to space.

XMPP serves for person-to-person communication, enabling personal control of IoT-enabled devices through users’ smartphones. It is generally used for consumer devices, and applications such as Google Talk have used the XMPP protocol.

Finally, AMQP is a protocol that facilitates server-to-server communication and enables a secure and reliable connection for control or analysis of data collected. AMQP was developed in the banking industry and is used most often in business messaging to send messages between servers using a tracking mechanism that ensures secure delivery.

A number of technology leaders are already in the midst of developing standards specifically for the IoT market. In 2011, Qualcomm announced the development of the open source AllJoyn protocol, later forming the AllSeen Alliance as its supervisor alongside Cisco, Microsoft, LG, HTC, and others. The AllJoyn protocol intends to enable connectivity and maintenance across connected devices.

Another consortium that is focused on developing standards for industrial IoT use is the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). The IIC was founded by Cisco, AT&T, GE, IBM, and Intel, but it has not yet released any specifications since it was first announced in March. Further, the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) was first announced earlier this summer and includes Atmel, Samsung, Wind River, Dell and Broadcom among its members. The OIC has stated that it intends to collaborate with the open source community in order to help foster innovation.

The most recent news came from Google last month, when they announced the development of a new networking protocol, Thread, with the aim of establishing a communications standard for IoT-enabled household devices. Nest, a connected device manufacturer acquired by Google earlier this year, already uses Thread in its line of products, which includes Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect.

This rise in industry consortia shows an active effort to increase standardization for the IoT sector, which has until recently seen mostly fragmented and varying growth without intercompany cooperation. In order to truly increase connectivity between different devices, developers will need to work together to ensure compatibility among protocols as the IoT continues to spread.

To learn more about VDC’s M2M Embedded Hardware & Platforms practice coverage, click here.

By Patrick McGrath, Research Associate

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