A common language for IoT

IEC and ISO publish a ground-breaking International Standard relating to the Internet of Things

By Catherine Bischofberger

The Internet of Things (IoT) is fast becoming the Internet of everything: the technology is impacting a huge number of sectors, from the transmission and distribution of electricity to the devices we use in our cities and homes. A new all-encompassing joint publication by IEC and ISO establishes a reference architecture for IoT, using a common vocabulary, reusable designs and industry best practices.

IoT concept Up to 50 billion devices are forecast to be connected worldwide by the year 2020

Wearable electronic patches, autonomous cars and smart grids may not seem to have much in common but they all show how IoT is beginning to change our lives. It involves the integration of smart physical entities – or “things” – with IT systems through networks, using electronic devices such as sensors and actuators to collect information and act upon these physical entities.

According to some forecasts, IoT will connect 50 billion devices worldwide by the year 2020. It is a booming market and manufacturers are producing ever more sophisticated products. IEC has long recognized that this dynamic, exciting and wide-reaching technology area requires International Standards to provide the appropriate safety specifications, as well as to help the various electronic devices and systems involved find some degree of interoperability.

Generic and all-encompassing Standard

The IEC and ISO Joint Technical Committee, ISO/IEC JTC 1, prepares International Standards for information and communication technologies related to business and consumer applications. In 2016, JTC 1 created Subcommittee (SC) 41 to produce Standards for the Internet of Things, building on the work accomplished for many years by its Working Groups (WG) 7 and 10.

Since its creation, SC 41 has published several Standards, most recently on underwater acoustic sensor networks. One of its greatest achievements to date, however, is the publishing of ISO/IEC 30141, Internet of things – Reference architecture. The 84-page document establishes an all-encompassing framework for IoT, which serves as a basis from which to develop context-specific IoT architectures and actual systems.

“We worked on this document for many years. This project was lead by three co-editors: Jie Shen from China, Wei Wei from Germany and Östen Franberg from Sweden. More than 50 people were directly involved. We received a lot of help from the Industrial Internet Consortium as well”, explains JTC1/SC 41 Chair François Coallier. “One of the challenges we faced is that the market for IoT is growing and evolving rapidly, thanks to ever more powerful computer systems and the lowering of sensor prices and other devices, but the technology is still immature in many respects. We had to keep track of all these developments and reach a global consensus before publishing,” he adds.

Trustworthiness is key

One of the aims of this generic and horizontal document which can apply to numerous areas ‑ smart manufacturing, grids, buildings, cities, agriculture, intelligent transport systems, e-health etc.‑ is to assist  stakeholders in creating a vertical-specific architecture ensuring that IoT-based applications are resilient, safe, and easy to use and access. Another prerequisite is to protect people’s privacy by ensuring their data cannot be hacked or stolen. “The right balance has to be struck between these different requirements. It is crucial for users to feel they can trust IoT systems. Trustworthiness was one of the key concepts that guided our work in this document."

The Standard establishes a conceptual model with a common vocabulary for the systems and devices involved. This leads to four different architecture views derived from current reference models which provide common definitions of the processes relating to IoT. Trustworthiness is explained and is based on safety, security, privacy, resilience and reliability which are all defined separately.

SC 41 is working on two other projects with trustworthiness as a guiding principle. These are ISO/IEC 30149, Internet of Things (IoT)  Trustworthiness framework) and ISO/IEC 30147, Internet of Things (IoT) – Methodology for implementing and maintaining trustworthiness of IoT systems and services.

“We have left some points out of the new Standard which will be added in the revision work which has already started”, Coallier says. It is imperative to continuously update this crucial document to keep up with the rapidly changing technological landscape, but at least manufacturers, suppliers and users of IoT can now speak a common language. 

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François Coallier François Coallier, Chair of JTC1/SC 41
IoT concept Up to 50 billion devices are forecast to be connected worldwide by the year 2020