mentor’s musings on WORLD STANDARDS DAY..

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the standardization imperative…..

With the evolution of the converged and networked society, further fueled by the Internet of Things era, a multitude of new applications of the Information and Communication Technologies have changed the way we live, work, play, interact and even think.

But, true convergence is still eluding the evolved citizens of today’s global village because of a lack of harmonized standards in the respective ecosystems of the smart homes, smart buildings, smart grid and smart cities. The smart nodes of one network cannot talk to smart nodes of the other networks. A wide array of proprietary systems/solutions, or ‘systems/solutions with very limited interoperability’ are being deployed in each application areas for the today’s home automation, building automation, industrial automation or even the infrastructure automation needs of the society. This is definitely going to ensure that we shall not be able to derive the maximum benefits of these technologies.

A major disconnect which has recently become apparent is: the technological trends in ‘Smart Homes’, ‘Smart Buildings’, ‘Smart Cities’ and ‘Smart Grid’ are being considered and pursued in isolation from each other with ‘silo’ approach, by the respective stake holders. In fact, they form a very tightly interwoven and homogenous confluence of similar technologies being applied in different domains for a common cause of making our planet earth ‘smart, green and secure’.

While the roadmaps and even pilots have focused on functionality, there is limited clarity on technology solutions, architectures and protocols that might best meet the goals of open standards, modularity, inter-operability, and price-performance. The claim of “following standards” is insufficient because it doesn’t answer the question of which standard and why. In fact, it is unlikely to be which standard but rather which standards since most Architectures (e.g., NIST’s and ETSI’s frameworks) do not pick one standard but have a layered approach, capable of using multiple standards in the portfolio. The existing and future Frameworks and Architectures for Smart Infrastructure need to be studied and a comprehensive robust architecture and framework for the upcoming Smart Infrastructure deployments needs to be developed.

Different communication technologies and protocols are being discussed or even advocated as the most suitable or most cost effective communication technologies for the upcoming Smart Infrastructure deployments. In India, in all the discussions and deliberations, two things are most conspicuous by their absence: “Standards for Communication Network Architecture” and the “Business Model” for deploying and running the communication infrastructure. For example, under R-APDRP we saw the limitations of a cellular (mobile) based communications system. This was even before extending services to rural areas or adding smart functionalities, with stronger requirements.

The relationship between Smart Grids and Smart Cities needs to be understood in this context: “In a smart city, energy, water, transportation, public health and safety, and other key services are managed in concert to support smooth operation of critical infrastructure while providing for a clean, economic and safe environment in which to live, work and play”. Hence, the perspective in Infrastructure Design for any city has undergone a paradigm shift with advent of convergence and networking technologies, solutions for information, communication, entertainment, security and surveillance; which are beginning to have a profound impact on the way we look at the buildings’ design (be it residential or commercial) and town planning.

Whatever architectures and frameworks we design that provide overseeing guidelines to the stakeholders of respective components and layers of the overall smart infrastructure paradigm; yet it is imperative to work on the finest granularity of each component and layer for standardization, as well as, harmonization, and ensuring the interoperability among various similar components addressing different applications at semantic as well as syntactic levels. Further the standards being adopted for the smart grid deployments must be harmonized with standards in all other relevant ecosystems and integrated smart infrastructure paradigms. There is a need to create and suggest frameworks to achieve the Interoperability among all the devices and layers at every interface in the networks, be it a smart home network, a smart building network, a smart city/community network or the smart grid network and hence prepare a set of detailed standards based specifications to cater to specific/defined/fixed use cases followed by development of a Compliance Testing Framework.

A systems level approach in design and standardization is likely to not only enable newer and better services, but also allow far greater synergies and cost-effective deployments, reducing the lifecycle (total) cost of ownership of any Infrastructure, be it the smart grid, a home, a building or even a city, with attendant environmental benefits, including carbon reductions.

Defining a unified, harmonized and interoperable communication protocol for seamless communication among diverse, as well as, heterogeneous devices, sensors, controllers and nodes is the toughest challenge in front of the designers today. This is because; different applications’ stakeholders have been till recently, working in silos, to address their respective communication needs, be it communication technologies or the protocols or even semantics. 

Standards-development organizations (SDOs) are busy mapping the Imperatives for standardization…

Standards are highly crucial for the Indian Smart Infrastructure Ecosystem, as in India most of the utilities are State owned. They cannot choose any single vendor for End-to-End solution, if it is not based on Open and Harmonized standards. They are obliged to provide equal & fair opportunity to all the stakeholders, and thus need to declare the specifications of any product, system or solution with utmost granularity to enable End-to-End Interoperability, even in a multi vendor deployment scenario.

Dichotomy: There is clearly a dichotomy between, on the one hand, the question “Who is going to invest in developing New products, systems and solutions based on the ‘UNIFIED, HARMONIZED & SECURE Information & Communication Architecture or even a Framework’ for such a heterogeneous scenario with such diverse challenges, when there is absolutely NO Co-ordination or even realization of the problems each stakeholder is going to face in the very near future?” and on the other hand, the question “Who is going to create the Architecture and/or Framework, if there is no demand or even realization of this NEED?”  

Strong, clearly understood, tangible benefits to be gained from the adoption of the “Unified & Secure Communication Architecture, Protocols, Interfaces and Standards” for the “Smart, Green & Secure Community” will be needed in order for both questions to be answered.

Nonetheless, the evolving focus on Energy Efficiency and “smart, sustainable & secure” Planet shall bring the stakeholders on common platforms to arrive at new solutions and consensus on conflicting aspects of such technological innovations….