Navigant Research Blog

IoT Standards Groups Merge, Paving Way for Increased Device and System Interoperability

— October 18, 2016

AnalyticsOne of the key barriers hampering wider adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is now on course to come down. Two leading IoT standards groups, Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and AllSeen Alliance, have merged, setting up the next steps toward standardization.

The two organizations issued similar statements about their plans on October 10, saying the combined groups will now operate under the Open Connectivity Foundation name. For now, though, work will continue in parallel for both the open-source OCF IoTivity project and AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn software framework. Eventually the two efforts will merge into a single IoTivity standard.

By joining forces, the enhanced OCF is on track to make interoperability among IoT devices and systems more seamless and secure for all stakeholders, including developers, hardware vendors, and end users. This means a smart thermostat should be able to work well and securely with a smart plug, a smart appliance, or a connected door lock.

Other Standards Being Developed

There are other industry players also working on standards, meaning a true standard is still elusive and the market is still fragmented. For example, Thread Group, backed originally by Google, is another entity working to create IoT interoperability standards. Google engineers are also developing a communications language for devices called Weave, a part of the company’s Brillo project, which aims to create an embedded OS for devices.

Nonetheless, the OCF and Thread Group should be credited for working toward a more harmonious market. Last July, OCF and Thread said they plan to cooperate even though they have different aims: Thread is developing a low-power mesh network layer, while OCF is focusing on an application layer that would run on top of the network. OCF is also working in partnership with two other groups, the Industrial Internet Consortium and the European IoT EEBus initiative. In addition, Thread Group has agreed to work with the ZigBee Alliance on a program to ensure interoperability.

A Market in Flux

The trend is moving toward IoT standards, but right now the market is in flux, and the uncertainty has a dampening effect on adoption. While the merger of OCF and AllSeen is a significant step forward, more work is needed among many technologies or groups in this space, like the LoRa Alliance, narrowband Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE), 5G, and the IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard. Bottom line: The IoT interoperability game is more of a marathon than a sprint, with many players vying for attention and market-mind share. The process could take 5 years or more before things settle down. Navigant Research’s recently launched IoT research service focuses on the IoT trend from an energy perspective and will continue to track changes in the interoperability issues of the market.


Smart Home Market Plugs through Awareness Gaps and Hacks

— October 4, 2016

Home Energy ManagementConsumers have an awareness gap when it comes to understanding smart home/Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. That’s the upshot of a recent survey by Bosch, which sampled more than 6,000 consumers in the United States and Western Europe.

This is one of those good news/not so encouraging news situations for industry stakeholders. On the one hand, two-thirds of the survey respondents were aware of smart home technology that can automatically turn off the lights when you walk out the front door. However, less than a quarter of those same respondents (22%) are aware that with enabled services, an oven can suggest recipes—though I’m not sure such oven technology is a big driver of adoption. (Foodies might disagree.)

Interestingly, saving energy was the most appealing aspect of living in a smart home, with 69% of all respondents, regardless of country, saying this was an attractive benefit. Spanish (71%), British (72%), and French (75%) respondents were particularly keen on saving energy.

Overall, French respondents were the most confident about what smart home technology can do compared to those from the United Kingdom, United States, or Austria. Respondents from Germany and Spain were the least confident about smart home technology. Not surprisingly, awareness of smart home technology decreased with age, with those in the 25-to-34 age bracket the most likely to understand the current state of what is possible.

The highest barrier to adoption of smart home technology was price, according to respondents, with 60% saying this was holding them back from embracing smart home IoT-type products.

Smart Home Hacks

Perhaps more concerning to the industry is another disturbing report about hacking of devices. According to several accounts, hackers recently hijacked as many as a million Chinese-made security cameras, digital video recorders, and other devices to mount a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Among those infected were French web hosting provider OVH and the website of well-known American security researcher Brian Krebs. The attack on Krebs’ site was so crippling that network provider Akamai had to cancel his account because too many resources were being used in trying to defend it. Krebs himself concluded wisely, “We need to address this as a clear and present threat not just to censorship but to critical infrastructure.”

That was one of the clear message from Navigant Research’s recent webinar, The IoT Transformation of Buildings. Security against hacks must be priority number one in the connected IoT world we now inhabit, and those in the energy sector must continue to demand this protection as a priority from technology suppliers and ensure that security is paramount in all of their deployments.


Quick pivot: No matter what one thinks of Elon Musk and his companies, it is worth noting his bold plan to colonize Mars, which he announced on September 27. There is an energy angle to this, too, as Musk’s Dragon spacecraft will utilize two solar arrays for producing power. Two YouTube videos help explain what this is all about. There might be plenty of good reasons to be skeptical of Musk’s vision and plan. But for the moment, let’s give him credit for being a trailblazer, explorer, and dreamer. We need big thinkers like him, even if we have doubts about their ideas.


Gauging Apple’s Smart Home Strategy

— September 27, 2016

Home Energy ManagementLike a circling hawk, Apple has been hovering above the smart home/Internet of Things (IoT) home marketplace, waiting for the right moment to pounce. That moment arrived when Apple released iOS 10 to the public early September 2016. The iOS 10 update includes a dedicated Home app, which is given prime screen real estate on the iPhone. It is a clear sign that Apple is ready to drop down to earth and fully engage, and even compete, in the emerging smart home market.

To be sure, Apple was not absent entirely from this particular marketplace prior to the update. The Cupertino, California-based company first announced its HomeKit platform more than 2 years ago. In the meantime, Apple has quietly waited for new compatible hardware products to become available so the platform could flourish. Currently, several dozen HomeKit-friendly devices are on sale, such as the ecobee3 smart thermostat, a smart lock from August, and Philips Hue wireless light bulbs. Apple expects nearly 100 more similar products from multiple vendors to come out before year’s end, which would further extend its ecosystem.

The essence of Apple’s Home app is its ability to integrate disparate devices in a single application, and do so in quintessential Apple fashion with an easily understood interface that hides complexity in the background. No longer does a user need to juggle several third-party apps to control devices. Instead these can be managed with just one app, as long as the device has the required works-with-Apple seal of approval. This is par for the course for the company that likes to maintain a proprietary world. However, a wireless thermostat or smart plug not part of Apple’s realm would have to be manipulated with a different application.

Apple’s Home App

Apple Home

(Source: Apple)

Amazon Echo’s Smart Home Skills

Alexa home

(Source: Amazon)

Much has changed since HomeKit’s unveiling. Competitors have seized the opportunity to forge ahead, Amazon in particular. The online retail giant has scored a hit with its voice-controlled Echo device, which can connect easily with many of the same devices (e.g., Philips Hue bulbs and ecobee3 smart thermostats) that work with Apple’s Home app. Moreover, Alphabet-Google is about to launch its voice-activated Google Home device to compete directly with Echo. Formidable competitors have taken some market and mind-share ahead of Apple, and the market for smart home/IoT functionality will be intense.

Early Market

Still, there is an upside for Apple. The market is early-stage, and millions of customers have yet to buy products or use connected-home devices. Competitors have helped pave the way and validate a market that has been elusive for many years, primarily targeting people with the money to pay for expensive devices and professional installers, or do-it-yourself geeks willing to fiddle with complex devices and systems. Mainstream adoption appears to be just around the corner.

Savvy energy market stakeholders are paying attention to all of this. Devices and applications that residential and commercial customers adopt can have an important effect on lives and businesses. Witness the growth of bring-your-own thermostat programs offered by utilities (see Navigant Research’s Bring Your Own Thermostat Demand Response report). Utilities need to stay current with what customers are doing behind the meter to automate premises and help them use energy more efficiently. It is a smart strategy for customer engagement, since disregarding trends is risky in a world where Silicon Valley heavyweights and disrupters see ways to leverage a transforming energy market (see Navigant’s Navigating the Energy Transformation white paper). Apple is not the only bird in the sky seeking new markets and growing revenue opportunities.


Are Drones About to Catch More Air Among Utilities?

— August 30, 2016

DroneDrones are on the verge of becoming a more commonly used tool by US utilities to improve operations and management of dispersed assets. The latest catalyst is the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) new rule called Part 107, which went into effect on Aug. 29. Part 107 comes with some hurdles utility stakeholders need to be aware of, but there is a process that should prove helpful.

Essentially, Part 107 sets the rules for routine commercial use of drones, or small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), in the federal parlance. The aim of the rules is to open “pathways towards fully integrating” drones into the nation’s airspace, according to an FAA release. These rules apply to non-hobbyist drone operators who are flying drones weighing less than 55 pounds. The person flying such a commercial drone must be at least 16 years old and hold a remote pilot certificate with a rating for this type of drone, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. A Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security background check is also required of all commercial drone pilots before a certificate can be issued.

However, there are restrictions likely to frustrate utilities or third-party drone vendors who might contract with a utility to provide drone services. For example, a drone operator must maintain a visual line-of-sight with the drone; keep the drone below 400 feet; fly during the day; keep the drone’s speed below 100 mph; not fly over people; and not fly from a moving vehicle. The line-of-sight and daytime-only restrictions are likely the most onerous to utilities. However, there is a waiver process by which specific restrictions can be removed. That waiver process is supposed to be done within 90 days, but one could expect a backlog, particularly through the rest of 2016 and into next year, assuming there is a flood of waiver filings.

The rules make sense from a cautious regulatory standpoint, but have taken several years to emerge. The slow pace has the US commercial drone market among the laggards compared to other countries, and the US rules are seen as among the most stringent in the world. Nonetheless, the regulatory framework is taking shape, and utilities can make plans.

Beyond Cameras – Lidar

One of the obvious benefits of drones is the use of onboard cameras to inspect grid assets for damage and current condition assessments. But there is another non-camera advantage through the use of lidar technology, which employs laser light instead of radio waves to generate precise, 3D data that can create real-time virtual maps of areas—something quite useful for utilities and transmission and distribution operations. The expectation is that the use of lidar combined with thermal and visual data will pave the way for virtual reality (VR) applications. For instance, a transmission operator could remotely explore storm damage at sites or transmission circuit failures.

The upshot of this new rule is that drones are likely to go from experimental gadgets to important devices in the utility toolbox in the near term. The cost to send drones into the field to monitor remote transmission lines or substations is much less than sending a truck in numerous instances, and as with other new technology, there are likely some new applications not yet devised. For more details of how the drone market among utility stakeholders is likely to unfold, see Navigant Research’s report, Drones and Robotics for Utility Transmission and Distribution. It’s worth a test flight.


Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date


Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Finance & Investing, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Transportation Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Innovations

By Author

{"userID":"","pageName":"Neil Strother","path":"\/author\/neilstrother","date":"10\/21\/2016"}