Open-source: Key to Critical Interoperability in the IoT

Traffic mishaps from the mild to life threatening happen. But coordinating a response to them—and to leveraging the full potential of the IoT for industrial, consumer, mil aero, smart energy, medical and more—can’t come about “by accident.”

Would you be willing to walk away from $1.5 trillion in market potential? McKinsey & Company recently published a report on the total potential value of the Internet of Things (IoT), projecting it could reach $3.9 trillion or higher by 2025. But there’s a catch—40 percent of that value is dependent on interoperability between technologies and applications, up to 60 percent in some cases. If this is true, then failing to solve the sticky issues around interoperability for IoT could result in a minimum of $1.5 trillion in lost value per year.

In many cases, there could be more than money on the table. Much of the value in IoT solutions lies in less tangible—but no less important—benefits, like faster notifications and responses to emergency situations such as pipeline leaks, infrastructure failures, or natural or man-made disasters.

Consider this scenario, based on an everyday occurrence in most cities—a serious traffic accident toward the end of the evening rush hour on a major artery. A coordinated IoT-based response might look like this:

  • Emergency response teams receive immediate notification and are routed to the scene automatically, green lighted along the way
  • The street lighting level at the accident scene is increased to assist emergency crews on the scene
  • Parking restrictions on alternate routes are automatically extended past rush hour to keep driving lanes open to cope with extra volume as drivers detour
  • Transit buses are re-routed and riders receive automatic notifications to smartphones of alternate stops for their commute home

A successfully coordinated response to the situation just described requires interoperable systems. It is highly unlikely that the traffic management system, the public lighting system, the emergency dispatch system and the transit routing system were all procured from the same vendor, but for this to work, they need to seamlessly share information quickly.

Interoperability and Proprietary Systems

Closed, proprietary systems can make interoperability difficult. What’s more, the problems extend beyond hindering interoperability. Making different components and elements of a system work together when they were not designed to do so can require a significant investment of time and effort, increasing the time to deployment and the overall cost.

The temptation is often to enable only what is immediately needed, to keep costs under control, which means that the information available may be underused and not well integrated into other systems to which it could add value. But once deployed, and especially if a system has been in use for several years, it can be extremely difficult to change anything—the vendor may no longer be available for support, and finding developers with the required expertise in proprietary systems can be difficult and expensive.

While the challenges are certainly significant in a fast-moving, fragmented industry, there are solutions available, if, as an industry, we’re willing to work together.



Standards and Stakeholders

One of the ways the interoperability challenge is being addressed is through collaborative efforts to establish standards. Thoughtful and collaborative standardization paves the way for innovation by providing freedom of choice and flexibility—developers can use devices from multiple vendors to customize a solution to meet their specific needs.

There are two ways this is currently being addressed. One is through industry standards organizations like oneM2M, a consortium of industry stakeholders that jointly develop technical specifications that address the need for a common M2M Service Layer that can be embedded within various hardware and software and relied on to connect a wide range of devices to M2M application servers. The group has published the oneM2M Release 1 specifications, which are available for download from

Another complementary approach to standards development is the release of designs and specifications developed by industry ecosystem players into the open source community as open hardware and interface standards for others to adopt. As the community develops and each contribution leads to the next, innovation is accelerated, barriers to entry are lowered, interoperability becomes easier and everyone wins. This approach has been gaining ground recently, with open hardware reference designs and open interface standards becoming more readily available and major industry players collaborating to support them, reducing the time and effort to get prototypes from paper to production by ensuring that various connectors and sensors work together automatically with no coding required.

Software’s Role

On the software side, working with widely supported open source software application frameworks and development environments, based on Linux, for example, offers several benefits. It broadens the community of developers and protects the time and investment devoted to development by increasing the longevity of solutions. It also provides a wealth of resources, including online code libraries and developer communities, which give IoT application developers a head start in getting their products to market. One example of this, Legato embedded platform, developed by Sierra Wireless and released last year, can be embedded on any application processor and simplifies development of IoT applications.

The truth is that none of us can envision every possible application for IoT technology. We are committed to an open-source strategy because we believe that it will drive innovation in the Internet of Things the way that it has in so many other areas of technology development, by enabling developers to get their applications to market faster and easier. It offers far more flexibility for developers to port their applications, or even portions of their code, from one device to another and from one generation to the next. This makes it easier to justify the development investment and reduces the time and efforts required, particularly as the ecosystem of developers expands. And importantly, the use of open source software, open hardware standards and specifications, and industry support for standardization efforts is crucial toward interoperability and the value it promises to deliver as the IoT develops.


Larry_Zibrik_med_webLarry Zibrik is the vice president of Market Development for Sierra Wireless, responsible for developing key ecosystem relationships with mobile network operators, silicon providers and solution partners. During his time at Sierra Wireless, Zibrik has been responsible for developing the company’s embedded modules business in both PC OEM and broadband M2M markets. Prior to joining Sierra Wireless, Zibrik gained extensive experience with wireless data and M2M though twelve years at Motorola Inc., where he managed the Embedded Module portfolio globally for Motorola’s Wireless Data Group.

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