What will it take for smart homes (or home networks) to be ubiquitous and capable of realizing all the Internet of Things and connected-device expectations and dreams?
For the IoT to really take off and deliver on the promise of a connected era, the anchor must be the home network. For smart homes to become the norm in the future, the home network must enable control.
The meaning of control in this context is two-fold: control of the overall connected device ecosystem and control of how the connected user interacts with the platform their devices and applications create.
The problem of control arises because the entire consumer electronics industry is now experiencing what it means to be connected to networks and it is running into the same issues the networking world has had to deal with for many years.
Those issues include:
Security: Today, consumer electronics includes networking interfaces on devices that, even a few years ago, no one would have dreamed of connecting. Those systems are now exposed, but developers often still trust the user's home network is secure. Others aren't familiar with how to safeguard network connected systems and others attempt to ignore the risks in order to cut costs. The result has been the increasing number of attacks that prey on vulnerable IoT systems. In addition, the lack of understanding of networking can lead to new threats to the home's physical security and actions that can impact the provider's network and the Internet itself.
Scalability: How will networks handle the next order of magnitude of connected devices? How will gateways and WiFi access points that were designed for only tens of connected hosts handle hundreds? These are problems that present very real threats to the adoption of IoT.
Upgradeability: Connected devices have both the threat of security breaches and the opportunity to remotely provide upgrades to users to patch security flaws or issue updates and new features. This opportunity is new and many manufacturers don't build their systems with this ability in mind or do not make it as robust as it could be.
Interoperability: As with all blossoming industries, IoT started with everyone doing their own thing. This is exacerbated by the broad scope of the IoT and the fact that many verticals have built control systems for decades and have generations of design ideas and practices that color the way they see the world -- and in some cases can provide valuable experience to the rest of the networking industry.
Work to address these key concerns has already started, with industry standards initiatives playing an important role in overcoming the challenges. Defining reliable (or carrier-grade) WiFi and other home network technologies, for example, can help address security and scalability issues as more network capable devices come online. This is useful for service providers and multiple system operators who have had difficulty marketing and supporting their WiFi and home network service offerings and feel regulatory pressure to deliver on promises to the end user. This situation is also blurred by the user perception that in-building WiFi or the home network is "the Internet."
The time is ripe for the standards community to come together and solve these problems. The Broadband Forum has several projects addressing these areas, but we are part of a wider ecosystem of both the telco world and consumer electronics, and we need to collaborate.
— Jason Walls is Director of Technical Marketing for QA Café, co-director of the Broadband User Services Work Area at the Broadband Forum – the creator of TR-069, the CPE WAN Management Protocol. You can find out more about the Broadband Forum’s User Services Platform on its @JasonSWalls