The Internet of Things is now a familiar term used to define daily situations requiring Internet connectivity. The IoT is about aggregating all possible devices into the network. This directly involves the need for more IP addresses, something which today can only mean IPv6.
Gustavo Mercado is an engineer working precisely on trying to connect all things around us, specifically on projects involving massive amounts of IP addresses (i.e., vast numbers of connected devices), such as the 6LowPAN sensor project.
According to Mercado, IPv6 is the only viable technology for connecting “billions” of devices to the Internet and building the Internet of Things.
In an interview with LACNIC News, Mercado noted that the Internet of Things will be “increasingly present in our lives.”
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a new paradigm that is quickly gaining momentum in digital communications, especially in the field of wireless communications. The central idea is that we are currently surrounded by a wide variety of things or objects such as Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) labels, sensors, actuators, mobile phones, etc., all of which are capable of interacting among themselves and cooperating with their neighbors to achieve common goals.
The term “Internet of Things” was coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, though at the time it referred almost exclusively to communities of RFID-labeled devices. The Internet of Things, however, has grown thanks to the use of wireless sensor networks and the standardization efforts on part of the IETF and the IEEE.
Can you provide us with an everyday example of how the Internet of Thing works?
Today, many different applications might be considered to fall under the definition of the IoT. For instance, if someone is trying to find an available parking spot using a mobile application, we can talk about a SMART CITY.
Likewise, a farmer using an Internet-connected wireless sensor network with nodes capable of measuring temperature and humidity throughout his/her land in order to predict icing conditions is applying what is knwn as “Precision Agriculture.” Similarly, a home equipped with a digital electricity meter which displays power consumption in real time and allows the homeowners to sell the excess power generated by the home’s solar panels back to the power utility company is an example of a SMART GRID.
These are just a few examples of the possibilities offered by the Internet of Things. We must now try to imagine what future applications might look like.
How should prepare ourselves for the Internet of Things ?
As users of technology, we can be sure that the IoT will be increasingly present in our daily lives. Modern societies and particularly urban populations are a strong driver for both Governments and the private sector to offer a greater number of services. For example, governments wishing to offer their citizens better services might include IoT applications to optimize e-government solutions.
Likewise, deploying these technologies will allow the private sector to find many business opportunities.
In addition, technical colleges and universities will need to produce professionals capable of implementing IoT projects.
How does the Internet of Things relate to IPv6 ?
Today, Pv6 is the only viable technology on which to build the Internet of Things.
Because we are saying that billions of devices will be connecting to the Internet in a not-too-distant future, knowing that IPv4 addresses are running out, it is only natural that the IoT must be implemented over IPv6.
In fact, the IETF has standardized an IoT stack over a protocol called 6lowPAN (RFC 4944).
Which projects have you worked on that are based on this concept ?
Our research team has been working on wireless sensor networks since 2009.
Our main project is a sensor network for agronomic research. Our first application —the SIPIA Network— employed proprietary protocols within the sensor network and a coordinator device that connected to the Internet over IPv4. The second version of this application —SIPIA6— already incorporates IPv6 (6lowPAN) in the sensor nodes and the coordinator device.
We are currently starting to work on an SMART GRID application for distributed photovoltaic power generation. In the case of this project, we are working together with a local power distribution company and the provincial power company. The goal is to convert part of the residential and industrial power distribution network to a SMART Grid.
Which of these projects could be implemented, as they are, without IPv6 ?
While certain technologies that are part of the IoT such as RFID or ZigBee don’t use IPv6, the current trend is to migrate from these technologies to IP.
Today, only small, closed projects can be implemented without IPv6.
In your opinion, what would be the natural evolution of the Internet of Things ?
In my opinion and according to current economic forecasts, IoT technology is set for a bright future. This prediction is based on the idea that popular demand coupled with technological developments will drive the generalized adoption of the IoT. This could mean a major contribution to economic development in a way similar to what is happening with the Internet today.
However, in order to achieve full interconnection, protocol standardization is a challenge that needs to be overcome. As we’ve known since the 80s, the use of open standards is the best way to fully interconnect all our devices. This is why I believe the IETF has —and will continue to have— a leading role in the growth of the IoT. In fact, we are already using protocols such as 6lowPAN, RPL, CoAP, etc. which have been standardized by the IETF.