An interview with Professor Dr. Axel Sikora, Scientific Director of the Institute of Reliable Embedded Systems and Communication Electronics (ivESK) at the University of Applied Sciences, Offenburg, Deputy Board Member of the Hahn-Schickard Association of Applied Research, Villingen-Schwenningen, and Board member of the M2M Alliance e.V.
Adaptation of M2M solutions can be a slow process. Unclear data protection framework conditions and a lack of cross-industry standards are considered to be some of the reasons. That is why All about M2M discussed M2M standardization with Professor Dr. Axel Sikora, Scientific Director of the Institute of Reliable Embedded Systems and Communication Electronics (ivESK) at the University of Applied Sciences, Offenburg, and Deputy Board Member of the Hahn-Schickard Institute, Villingen-Schwenningen.
Professor Sikora, to what extent would global standards speed up the adaptation of M2M in all areas of life?
At the moment, standards are inhibiting willingness to invest because, in part, they either do not exist or the choice is simply too great. That is why many companies are naturally reluctant and are biding their time to see which standards make the running.
Yet standards are also a prerequisite for horizontal integration of different applications. Practical standards already exist for individual niche areas such as machine monitoring or automatic emergency calls from a connected apartment for elderly people. But if we are talking about M2M solutions in complex scenarios such as a Smart City or a Smart Factory, it is all about horizontal integration of different applications and at present it is really not clear yet which standards will prevail.
Initial approaches to these complex solutions do exist, but many of them are not yet sufficiently detailed. They disregard many aspects, especially network and node management, and are therefore not yet ready for practical use. Worse still, they require extensions that have proprietary components.
You say that in part there are too many and in part too few standards. Where are there too many and where too few?
Actually, every application area has a number of approaches. That goes for home automation just as it does for building automation, for industrial automation as for process automation. Take a closer look at all these areas and you will find a handful or two of standardization approaches in each of them.
Who is responsible for standardization, then?
It is strikingly apparent that state or intergovernmental standardization bodies such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the Verband der Elektrotechnik Elektronik Informationstechnik (VDE) or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are less and less involved. Increasingly, the movers are industry alliances or eco-systems that are set up independently. On the one hand that is to be welcomed because these alliances can act much faster than standardization bodies. On the other, that leads to the establishment of groups of this kind no longer being synchronized. In other words, if you mark on a map which bodies are responsible for which areas you will find a lot of overlapping between different bodies but also areas that are white on the map. It is uncoordinated and makes matters even more complicated.
How international are the alliances or standardization bodies in alignment?
That depends. The 3GPP, which deals with standardization of mobile communications, is a very good example of global cooperation. There is also, however, a large number of activities that are more regional in scope, and that applies both to America and to Europe.
What part do the Europeans play compared with American and Asian players?
The American market, like the Asian market, has a characteristic that the European market does not have: alliances and ecosystems that are shaped by very big players, such as Google or Amazon. In Europe this kind of interaction does not exist. In its place we in Europe have more symmetrical alliances in which smaller and larger SMEs join forces to take standardization forward together.
Do smaller companies and startups stand any chance whatever of playing a part in the development and implementation of standards if Google and Amazon are also on board?
That is a question not just for startups but for the entire European market. Their only chance, as I see it, is to join together in overall bodies and see to it that they head jointly in one direction and make use of the advantages of multilateral discussions rather than working independently of one another.
Does any such organization exist in Europe?
In the area of smart metering, in which we for example are active, there is the Open Metering System OMS Group. It consists of around 60 companies involved in smart metering and smart grids and it does very good standardization work. That point is made by government agencies such as the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) in connection with the security of smart meter gateways.
Which players should be involved in standardization?
That is a classical conflict of objectives. On the one hand you need as many players as possible round the table in order to take all aspects into consideration and leave no white spots on the map. On the other, the more players are involved, the more difficult standardization becomes. The network operators, equipment manufacturers and, in connection with complex solutions like the Smart City, municipal administrations should of course be represented, but I see above all an increasing need to include service providers in the discussion. When we talk about connected applications we are increasingly talking about changing service models too. Until now the bodies have been to a large extent shaped by hardware and device-centered companies. The service providers which are then to market, operate and service the solutions are relatively seldom represented.
Read more about the technical levels and risks of standardization in the second part of the interview, which will follow shortly.