Broadcom exec: Internet of Things will be a 'collection of standards'

SUNNYVALE, Calif.-- Brian Bedrosian, senior director of the embedded device business in Broadcom's Wireless Connectivity Group, might not deliver the type of hype-infused rhetoric that you hear from a lot of corners in the Internet of Things (IoT) space.

Brian Bedrosian

Bedrosian (Source: Broadcom)

For one thing, he's not so sure he wants his refrigerator talking to his bathroom scale; is that really necessary? For another, he's not so keen on vehicles talking to one another, at least not by today's standards.

But as one of the people involved in driving Broadcom's strategy in the IoT world, he's got a pretty good handle on where the company is headed. It wasn't, however, always clear, he said during an interview with FierceWirelessTech. In the early days, "we kind of defined it by what we were not more than what we were when we started the business. We were not a cell phone. We're not a PC or a tablet. We're not a TV."

He likens it to the children's book, "Are You My Mother?," about a bird searching for his mother. That's kind of what he and his colleagues were doing in the early days of the Internet of Things.

Eventually, it led to the cultivation of Broadcom's WICED program, pronounced "Wic-id," designed so that anyone who has never done Wi-Fi or Bluetooth networking can put it into a thermostat and have a demo up and running for his VP in a couple of weeks. The name comes from a team engineers based in Sydney, Australia, who came up with: Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices, or WICED, in a company presentation.

Bedrosian is also not hell-bent on coming up with one universal communications or standard for the IoT. He had his "ah-ha" moment last August when he was getting ready to give a presentation. One of his slides had a bunch of logos on it to represent the myriad IoT initiatives in the works throughout the industry. They were scattered in a pattern like ink blots. That's when the proverbial light bulb went off. The logos lined themselves up in columns: Apple brands here, Android brands there, along with Big Box retailers and all the basic standards and fundamental networking technologies.

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Some of the "things" enabled by Broadcom's technology.

It became clear that trying to address all of the standards was more or less futile. Nobody was going to change their branding. At the same time, efforts like the Open Internet Consortium (OIC) and the AllSeen Alliance (originally created by rival chip maker Qualcomm) are going open source.

"Open source is not a standard, by definition. It's just open source," Bedrosian said. "Anybody can do anything they want with it, and we felt like it was trying to boil the ocean to try to pretend that there would be a universal Internet of Things standard, that everything would communicate the same way in each context in every segment."

"The thing about standards is it's very political," he said. "What makes great standards is when there isn't a lot of variance, and it's a very clear definition of what can be done."

There's also the fact that there's already a fundamental networking connection, Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth Smart, that's included in pretty much every smartphone out there, "but there isn't a universal standard for every product, in every market, in every segment, for every brand."

"Our goal was to be all inclusive and provide a pre-integrated solution that would understand whatever communication protocol was presented to it and be able to communicate back," he said. So if a developer is working on a new connected toaster and the user has an iOS phone, it should be able to speak to it; likewise, with an Android phone.

"I don't think there will be a universal standard," he said. "There will be a collection of standards and brand ecosystems that are essentially standardized for their brands."

Back to that WICED scenario. Broadcom is offering a software development kit for about $20 in an effort to open up the IoT development to anyone who's interested. Broadcom barely makes any money from the sale of the kits; that's not the revenue driver. The payback comes when somebody comes up with a winning idea and Broadcom will be there to get supply its chips and get designs to market. "If somebody takes our kit in February, we'll have it on the shelf for Christmas," he said. So far, about 1,000 of the kits are selling every month.

Bedrosian said he and his team continue to keep an eye on other IoT technologies; they spent a lot of time evaluating IEEE 802.15.4, which is what ZigBee is built on top of, and "the radio is very attractive, and efficient, and we've put a lot of time and thought" into that, he said.

Broadcom already has 802.15.4 products integrated in set-top boxes for remote control and home security, so it is no stranger to the technology. "We'll see how the rest of this connected device market evolves," he said. "I think it will be an interesting transition around some of the mesh technologies that become available."

In the meantime, Broadcom is pretty focused on optimizing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Smart for the IoT family of devices.

And all the chatter about the importance of security in the IoT? Bedrosian said he doesn't think the chances of someone hacking their way into most consumers' refrigerators are that great.

"I think security is overrated," he said. "I think we worry about it way too much" in home networking. Each of the standards has inherent security protocols built into them to encrypt transmissions, whether it be the wide area network or the local area network. Wi-Fi, for example, has WPA. "We're building very, very secure systems," he added.

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