Interoperability Not Just Compatibility the Goal of IoT

The TALQ Consortium recently announced that the standards organization’s new mandate is to help bring interoperability to smart city applications beyond street and outdoor lighting. The TALQ Consortium, in some ways like the lighting industry itself, has now gone beyond its initial mission of bring software interoperability to street and area outdoor lighting to fully embrace the potential of the Internet of Things and smart cities (Ref: Coverage).

The Internet of Things (IoT) requires that products work together regardless of who produces them. To this end, standards such as the TALQ Consortium’s soon-to-be-released software interoperability requirements, are an almost mandatory part of widening IoT adoption.

The one caveat is that companies must choose to apply those standards to their products for them to have any hope of accelerating IoT adoption.

Without widespread use, a standard is just a suggestion.

Apart from hoping to accelerate IoT application adoption, another goal is to make the technology future-proof. So, whatever applications that the industry can create in the future, the technology infrastructure that will allow such an upgrade is already mostly installed. An analogous hardware example (not related to lighting) might be, being able to upgrade optical fiber network technology without laying out more optical fiber.

While the TALQ Consortium is about Software, many other organizations are making headway in the interoperability of smart city hardware.

One point that the IoT-Ready Alliance is pursuing is making a standardized interface that allows sensors (even if they aren’t lighting related) to be installed with street lights (Ref: Coverage).

So while the TALQ consortium focuses on the software backend of municipal IoT applications, the IoT-Ready Alliance focuses on the hardware in interoperable sensors that enables the data gathering upon which the software relies.

Sensors do not necessarily have to get power the same way that lighting does. However, they do have to get power in some way. For this reason, the EnOcean Alliance has devised standalone sensors and switches that do not require batteries or links to the mains power source. These switches and sensors use energy harvesting technology. This technology uses radio frequency transmission, solar cells, or even heat to power the devices. The EnOcean Alliance has made a standard for offering power-independent switching and sensing one potential option for certain IoT and lighting control applications.

The communication side of the Internet of Things has its own set of standards for both hardware and software.

For example, Osram developed its own standard called Dexal that the company has promoted that communicates among luminaire components such as power sources, drivers, LED modules, and controllers, and sensors (Ref: Coverage). The company hopes that the standard that they created will catch on and has made it freely available.

The ideal hardware and software standards would make IoT hardware and software not just compatible, but interoperable. While compatibility lets you use devices together, true interoperability makes the hardware and software (parts) completely interchangeable like Henry Ford and the assembly line. Ultimately, the ideal interoperability does not have to translate data, sensor outputs, and usage information, it should be the same format and language.

While I have only looked at a few standards organizations, many different standards cover very similar or even the same IoT hardware and software devices. With many different standards out there for the same things, such interoperability may be very difficult if not impossible. However, this type of interoperability should still be the goal.

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