Industry standards alone don’t drive technology and make it successful. Manufacturers breathe life into standards by supporting them in their products. If those devices don’t work together, customers will lose trust in the standards and vendor sales will suffer. Products implemented to comply with any particular standard aren’t necessarily interoperable, as standards don’t necessarily define all the details required to implement a product. It falls on industry consortia to agree on those implementation details that make the products interoperable. However, building that consensus is a complex process, and it involves engaging with a number of stakeholders.
For years, the Wi-SUN Alliance has been creating technical specifications to support real-world Internet of Things (IoT) products based on standards such as IEEE 802.15.4g. We have identified several stumbling blocks that can cause an IoT interoperability effort to fail.
#1 Poor-quality Specifications
True interoperability is defined by the specifications. These must define how products will support technology standards, defining optional and mandatory requirements. They must also describe the certification process to prove interoperability and to strengthen the alliance’s brand. Ensuring that these key documents are comprehensive and unambiguous is the starting point to interoperability.
#2 Shortage of Available Implementations
A complete technical specification is an essential starting point, but it doesn’t guarantee interoperability. Readily available software stacks implementing the technical specification gives vendors a trusted starting point for proof-of-concept implementations and production units.
#3 Inadequate Certification
Comprehensive certification testing ensures that vendors implement specifications correctly. Poor certification can impact an alliance’s brand with vendors and customers alike. Certification testing must be globally available, reasonably priced, and completed quickly. It shouldn‘t sacrifice test quality.
For example, the Wi-SUN Alliance handles its field area networks (FAN) and home area network (HAN) certification through independent accredited test labs (ATLs). Test labs are validated to ensure that they faithfully replicate the test environment for the specified profile. All IoT certification bodies need to make sure their ATLs are living up to consistent and robust testing standards.
#4 Unrealistic Interoperability Testing
Some certification programs only test vendor products in a specific environment. In a real-world deployment, there may be devices from many vendors. Failing to test for real-world conditions will create interoperability problems and will result in a loss of customer confidence.
All certifying bodies should test equipment against a range of vendors’ devices. For example, Wi-Sun hosts “plugfests” that provide an environment where vendors can check that their products interoperate with each other before conducting certification testing on them.
#5 Poor Governance Structure
Strong technical implementation takes strong leadership. Without this, a community can easily slip off course. Technical specifications can suffer, leading to problems with interoperability and certification.
Any consortium or industry body needs a strong direction that sets priorities and approves a charter for working group activities. The board should create clear policies around everything from voting procedures to technology sharing and patent disclosure, along with procedures for working group participation and a clear reporting structure.
This article includes contributions from Paul Duffy and Don Sturek, Co-Chairs Wi-SUN Field Area Network (FAN).