IoT connectivity solutions: Media access control layer and network topology

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Media access control layer and network topology

For IoT applications, the main characteristics of the media access layer control (MAC) that need to be considered are multiple access, synchronization, and network topology.

Multiple Access. Looking back at decades of successful cellular system deployment, one can safely conclude that TDMA is a good fit for the IoT. TDMA is suited for low-power operation with a decent number of devices, as it allows for optimal scheduling of inactive periods. Hence, TDMA is selected for multiple access in the MAC layer.

Synchronization. In IoT applications, there are potentially a very large number of power-sensitive devices with moderate throughput requirements. In such a configuration, it is essential to maintain a reasonably consistent time base across the entire network and potentially across different networks. Given that throughput is not the most critical requirement, it is suitable to follow a beacon-enabled approach, with a flexible beacon period to accommodate different types of services.

Network topology. Mobile networks using a cellular topology have efficiently been servicing a large number of devices with a high level of security and reliability, e.g., 5,000+ per base station for LTE in urban areas. This typology is based on a star topology in each cell, while the cells are connected in a hierarchical tree in the network backhaul. This approach is regarded suitable for the IoT and is therefore selected.

The network layer and interface to applications

The network layer (NWK) and the interface to applications are less fundamental as far as power-efficiency and reliability is concerned. In addition, there is more variation in the field of IoT applications. Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged that IoT applications need to support the Internet Protocol (IP), whether it is IPv4 or IPv6. In addition, the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) could provide the relevant trade-off between flexibility and implementation-complexity on resource-constrained devices.

Furthermore, the IoT will represent an immense security challenge, and it is likely that state-of-the-art security features will become necessary. As of today, we can assume 128 bits Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for encryption and Diffie-Hellman (DH), or the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH) variants, can become the baseline for securing communication.

Great Write Up about Pebble and Apple Iwatch

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By this time next week Apple will have, once again, sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Next Monday, at one of the company’s time-tested high-profile events, we’ll all be attending the coming out party for Apple Watch.

But this week, the smart watch news is all about Pebble, which can reasonably claim to have energized the space three years ago in a very Apple way: Exploding onto the scene with a breakthrough device someone else thought of first.

Pebble returned to Kickstarter last week in a bald attempt to capitalize on the smart watch buzz created by Apple’s imminent entry into the space with Pebble Time, a sportier model with a new approach to notifications it calls Timeline. They’ve promised a month of news, timed to the 30-day campaign, which includes today’s reveal of — surprise! — an upgrade option to Pebble Time Steel, a steal at only $80 more than the (long since taken) $170 batch (Yes, I’m in. Again).

Pebble and Apple isn’t David and Goliath, at least not as far as Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky is concerned. “Whether delusional, manically focused or simply well-rehearsed, Migicovsky chose to view the Apple announcement as a plus for Pebble,” Steven Levy writes in Backchannel. ‘It’s pretty incredible to see the world’s largest company come into the watch space,’ he said. ‘It’s validating something I’ve known for the last six and a half years — that the next generation of computing will be on your body.'”

What is undeniably true is that Pebble has sold more than one million watches in three years, and six days into a 30-day Kickstarter campaign, has sold another $14 million worth. With that, the company has re-claimed the title (it first took with the original Pebble) as the most funded Kickstarter project ever.

So, there is that.

I first took notice of Pebble in my Reuters column when they broke all records on their first Kickstarter campaign, in April 2012:

A Kickstarter project for a device you wear on your wrist, but that needs a smartphone to do anything really interesting, has raised more than $5.3 million in eight days. This is this far and away the most anyone has ever raised on Kickstarter, and it’s happening – with a gadget in a category that has a pretty dismal track record – at a sales pace that would make even Apple sit up and take notice.

As much as I like to dine out on those last words, I’m not really sure Apple did “sit up take notice” as much as it might have already been working on the idea for quite some time.

The smart watch has all the earmarks of the sort of device-that-time-forgot Apple often manages to turn into something relevant. Microsoft had tried and failed with it a decade before the first Pebble (note the similarities to the tablet, which Apple reinvented a decade after the Redmond giant tried to market its own). Various kinds of smart watch have been around ever since, getting little love. Even Pebble was going nowhere fast as a developer of a device tethered to Blackberry phones, which were about to fall off a cliff.

What changed? Two very important, intertwined things.

Smart watches were originally conceived of as stand-alone devices. The limitations are now pretty obvious, chiefly the tiny screen. Remember, though, at the time ofMicrosoft’s SPOT, screens on mobile phones were also pretty tiny.

But they didn’t do all that much. Unlike the Dick Tracy device people of a certain age remember fondly you couldn’t even talk to anyone with it. I mean, we KNEW that watches were communications devices in the early 1960s. So why aren’t they in the year 2002?!

Apple went a long way towards setting the stage for the emergence of the smart phone as must-have mobile device in 2007, with the first iPhone. Among the new features was a ginormous screen, which made activities like web surfing credible on a mobile device. So successful was the smart phone that it created a new version of a problem futurist Alvin Toffler had identified in 1970: information overload. Hard core techies, like Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram, would soon argue that you should choose a smart phone based on how well they wrangled notifications above all other features.

And that was the new opening for the resurgence of the smart watch. The trick, from my perspective, is to avoid mission creep. It is to remember that the opportunity lies in extending the utility of the smart phone, not replacing it.

But the existential question about whether smart watches are a mainstream consumer item is valid. Notification management is pretty hard core. One new use case: There are unique health monitoring opportunities for something strapped to your wrist. Pebble steals a little of that thunder today — surprise! — with a reveal of the smartstrap, which can “contain electronics and sensors to interface directly with apps running on Pebble Time.” That is another open invitation to developers, who have already flocked to the Pebble platform in very respectable numbers — 26,000 have written 6,000 apps.

Apple may bury Pebble, or its entry into the smart watch space might lift all boats — even Android, whose fans will tell you already boasts a range of excellent choices with features Apple will reinvent, or steal, depending on your point of view.

So, for a smart watch aficionado these are exciting times. If Apple is wildly successful, look to them to even extend coverage to Android devices, like iTunes spread to Windows. Apple’s entry is a make-or-break event which will answer whether there is a massive, pent-up hunger for this kind of device, or whether it’s only a play thing for people like me.

Either way, it’s about time.

The internet of things is revolutionising the world of sport

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By Stephen Pritchard

Each game in this year’s Six Nations championship will produce two million rows of data, equivalent to more than 1,400 actions (tries, conversions, tackles, passes and so on) per game. This data will be fed to broadcasters, fans (via the official Six Nations app among other channels) and to coaches who can and will use the information to improve player performance.

The idea of capturing data during a sporting event is not new but the richness of the data now available and the speed at which it is gathered certainly is.

In the 1950s Charles Reep, an RAF officer and accountant, pioneered the idea of data capture in sport. While watching football matches he created a system of paper notation to record players’ moves. It took him three months to wade through the data produced by the 1958 World Cup final.

Reep’s work is not without controversy: among other things, he is credited with driving English football managers’ fondness for the long-ball game. But there is no doubt that his work and the system of notational analysis he patented has changed the way teams play sport and how fans now watch them.

Reep, of course, only had the most basic tools available to study a match: his eyes, a notepad and a pencil. It was only in the 1990s that football, rugby and a raft of other professional sporting clubs started to install cameras which enabled match-play monitoring.

The move to digital cameras, that can capture much better pictures and transfer far more information, is even more recent.

Over the last few years, clubs have started to marry up information from their cameras and video screens with other sources of data, especially information from GPS (global positioning system) satellites and accelerometers worn by players.

“We are seeing the convergence of health and lifestyle technology,” says Mark Skilton at PA Consulting. “You can wear a sensor in your shirt, on your wrist, shoe or raquet; we’re even seeing sensors in golf clubs to monitor players’ swings using kinetic real-time feedback.”

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But the way sports are layering these different technologies together is changing coaching, the way fans view sports and even how sports clubs are run. A variety of applications now mean the keen fan can see not just how their team performed but which players were most influential in the game. Any fan with a WiFi connection and a tablet device now has, in effect, a coach’s eye view of the game.

In Reep’s day, sports analysts had no choice but to go through their notes after the game. Even the first-generation video coaching aids required back-room staff to watch hours of footage in order to pick out the key parts of the game to show players. Now, because of digital technology, access to all this information is as good as instant.

Sports are benefiting too from off-the-pitch technologies making it easier to capture and share information.

The development of ubiquitous networks of connected sensors and communications, known as the internet of things, is giving rise to intelligent buildings. Sports venues are no exception and teams and sports scientists can piggyback on this intelligence to share rich data.

Technology company Cisco is heavily involved in smart buildings but also has a project called the Connected Athlete.

The Connected Athlete takes data from sensors, for example in a shoe or boot, and then connects that up to the stadium’s WiFi network or even a low-powered cellular phone transmitter so that teams can monitor it. But because the internet of things allows the athlete’s sensors to connect to other networks, it can be shared with fans and broadcasters too.

Much of the power of the internet of things in sports, relies on the idea of a “smart building” to tie together existing technology resources. These include WiFi, sensors including intruder alarms, door entry systems, thermostats and smart meters, digital displays and even electronic ticketing.

In this way, building owners and building management software know where people are, what they are doing and how much energy they are using.

From a business perspective, such data becomes very valuable when it comes to cutting the running costs of large buildings, but they bring benefits too in public safety and security.

Coupling a smart building with digital signage allows building managers to give visitors up to date information, and redirect people away from busy areas to where queues are shorter.

Already being used to ease congestion at airports, an intelligent building system can direct people to the least busy turnstile or bar, or even where the toilet queues are shortest. Signs can direct the public in an emergency, but the rest of the time they can show match information, player statistics or even special offers.

A proof of concept by Accenture (who sponsor this series), goes a step further. Trialled at Twickenham during the Six Nations, their technology combines a wireless headset with the Six Nations app and information cards created by an expert curator showing data from critical points in a game.

Hooked up to the Wi-Fi network, according to Ben Salama, UK and Ireland managing director of Accenture Mobility, the tech could be extended into areas as diverse as catering. “You could see half time scores from other games,” he says, “but also to order drinks to be delivered to your seat without missing any of the game.” This, he says, is one way for sporting venues to increase their revenues.

There is still some way to go before such gadgets become mainstream at sporting events. Cost is one barrier. Others include connectivity and battery life.

Accenture admits that most UK stadiums lack a powerful enough WiFi system to support a truly connected experience; the firm had to build a new network at Twickenham for its proof of concept.

Manufacturers also say more needs to be done to allow devices to stream more data and to last for a match, or beyond, on a single battery charge.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to reduce power consumption the technology consumes,” says Sujata Neidig, director of business development for consumer technology at Freescale, a microchip maker. “And we are also looking at wireless charging.” That way, fans can focus on the game rather than hunting for a power socket.