Bridge IoT islands using open APIs
While the internet of things (IoT) provides a wealth of opportunities for device manufacturers, communications service providers (CSPs) and application developers, the pervasive fragmentation of the ecosystem is slowing down uptake and making it difficult for industry stakeholders to benefit from the IoT and expand its capabilities as an holistic ecosystem, writes Joann O’Brien, the vice president of APIs and ecosystems at TM Forum.
This fragmentation must be overcome if stakeholders are to realise the full value that the IoT ecosystem represents. However a solution exists in the form of open application programme interfaces (APIs). By using a set of standard APIs, communities will be able to bridge IoT platform islands to ensure that they benefit from the network effect of this technology.
In fact, if the industry is to deliver value from, and consequently, monetise IoT, it is important that a common set of APIs is developed to accelerate up-take and optimization. These APIs must facilitate the interconnectivity of IoT applications, platforms and connected things, allowing devices to be controlled across platforms, and customers’ orders to be processed and billed.
Today, a plethora of protocols are used to connect devices to the internet and manage them. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and low power wide area networks (LPWAN) are just a few communications protocol examples. While these protocols are necessary, the different standards can significantly impact interoperability. Adding to this, several multi-layer IoT frameworks are also developing standards, for example the AllSeen Alliance, the Open Mobile Alliance and the Industrial Internet Consortium. Therefore collaboration amongst different industry bodies to align goals and aims is required.
This leaves telecoms vendors with the tough job of identifying which APIs are best suited for IoT applications, platforms and connected things, and making them interoperable regardless of the technology, protocol or framework they use or what their target vertical industry is. If vendors cannot quickly create a common set of APIs to interconnect disparate IoT ecosystems, ambitions of market maturity will hang in the balance.
Catalyst for change
Several operators and vendors are now working together and are beginning to solve the common API challenge. Under the auspices of TM Forum’s Catalyst Program, a group including AT&T, DellEMC, Ericsson, Globe Telecom, KDDI, Neural Technologies and SingTel worked on a proof-of-concept (POC) project entitled ‘Open APIs for a Vibrant IoT Ecosystem’ which identified and adopted a set of standard APIs best suited to connect IoT ecosystems.
The extensive project saw the team adapt IoT APIs from FIWARE, a TM Forum partner, which will then be contributed back to the Forum.
Globe Telecom and SingTel have been working to develop the application management systems and mobile apps needed to demonstrate two use cases: connected home and connected parking. Singtel is also providing the business support system (BSS) platform to demonstrate mobile payments.
Neural Technologies has implemented the newly defined Catalyst APIs in its IoT platform, and DellEMC is providing connected devices including a demonstration parking lot with gantries, proximity sensors, radio-frequency identification readers and an LCD screen. Ericsson is also providing its IoT platform and connected devices including a fan and lamp, while KDDI is providing a motion sensor.
The insights from this catalyst project are being used to define a suite of TM Forum Open APIs for the management of interoperability across IoT platforms and outwards to the developer applications. By using the TM Forum Open APIs, CSPs and their partners will be able to successfully implement a wide range of IoT applications, platforms and devices from multiple suppliers, independent of the underlying technology. In addition to contributing these open APIs back to the telecoms community, the team behind the project will contribute device data models and the first example of mapping between APIs and IoT device data models to a device gateway that uses MQTT.
The great leap forward
This IoT ecosystem Catalyst is the first to connect multiple IoT platforms together through the use of Open APIs. By adopting a method, purposely-built to test the API architecture, the Catalyst was able to move beyond the individual use-cases – i.e. how to make connected cars or drones work – and towards harnessing the real value of APIs in all IoT contexts.
Ultimately, if CSPs and vendors alike are to deliver new services in line with demand, it is critical that open APIs are able to interconnect platforms in a way that is infinitely scalable in the commercial world.