Home automation, connected car pushing IoT, but lack of standards stings, execs say

LAS VEGAS--The fastest growing segments of the Internet of Things market include home automation, the connected car market and mobile healthcare and health monitoring, according to a panel of leading IoT executives. However, a lack of standards--or rather, a proliferation of them--is holding back adoption and creating headaches for the industry.

Those were come of the key insights executives delivered at FierceWireless' executive breakfast, "Internet of Things: Uncovering the Top Growth Segments," held here at Super Mobility Week. Security of all of the data that is being generated by connected devices was also an issue that the executives said is a paramount concern. The IoT market is expected to boom during the next few years: Cisco has predicted that 25 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020.

Matt Thompson, general manager of developer evangelism at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), said home automation is "an easy one" to pick in terms of potential for growth. He noted that one of Microsoft's partners is an insurance company that is interested in an Internet-enabled sump pump. Even though sump pumps are not widely used in homes, when one fails it can be a disaster in terms of flooding, so the return on investment for an automated one with monitoring would be huge, Thompson said. Likewise, he said another Microsoft partner is working on a water heating solution that could deliver instant hot water, which could have applications in home or industrial settings.

Chris Penrose, senior vice president of emerging devices at AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), said that only around 1 percent of U.S. homes have automation in them, so the market is still tiny. He said that AT&T's decision to expand its Digital Life platform into home health monitoring and care is an example of how much potential there is. He also said AT&T sees applications for Digital Life in the small business arena as well. "There are a lot of other areas where this makes sense," he said.

AT&T is also a leading player in providing connectivity in the connected car market, and has deals with General Motors, Audi, Tesla and others. Penrose said "car manufacturers are finally seeing the value of what the connectivity can do. 

"When you have both the consumers and business pushing it, that's really pushing much faster adoption," he said.

Larry Zibrik, VP of market development at Sierra Wireless, also agreed that connected car is a huge market opportunity because of its global reach. "If you get one large automotive company, the scale of that one initiative is enormous," he said.

A key challenge facing the industry is that there are numerous communication protocols involved--LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, mesh networking and more--as well as multiple groups trying to create IoT standards, including the Industrial Internet Consortium, the Open Interconnect Consortium, the AllSeen Alliance and others.

Alec Saunders, VP of cloud business at BlackBerry's (NASDAQ:BBRY) QNX subsidiary, noted that there has been a "huge proliferation of communication standards, and device descriptions and communication protocols" that he said are "not unified in any way." BlackBerry is also a member of the Industrial Internet Consortium, whose role is to help standardize those protocols. The large number of protocols and standards is the "No.1  thing that is holding back the proliferation of this connected world we all want to see," Saunders said.

"We have to stop talking about the technologies and start talking about the solutions," Sierra's Zibrik added, noting that there are too many IoT standards today.

Security was also a major topic of discussion. John Horn, president of RacoWireless, said that the IoT industry has "flown under the radar" when it comes to security, but that health data, financial transactions and car security represent vulnerable data that needs to be secured. "Anybody that hasn't built a secure infrastructure environment is in trouble," he said, "I think the industry as a whole is going to have some major wakeup calls."

Saunders said best practices for securing data are well known but that it may take a few major IoT security breaches to alert the entire industry to the need to secure connected device data. "Hopefully it won't pollute the mind of the consumer too much," he added.

Saunders also said that his biggest concern is tiny sensors on connected devices that could be attacked to feed malicious code or incorrect data back into larger, more secure systems.

AT&T's Penrose added that "we have to solve for every possible angle in security" and that it will take partnerships across the industry to do so. "We don't want to be in a situation where this becomes a deterrent" to adoption of the wider Internet of Things, he said.

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