Group tackles IP routing protocols for embedded networks

New IETF working group formed to create IP routing standards for low-powered networks

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has chartered a new working group to standardize IP routing protocols for embedded networks connecting devices with limited power, memory and processing resources.

The Routing Over Low-power and Lossy Networks (ROLL) working group will define interoperable protocols that will let disparate networks be tied together and managed using IP routers rather than protocol translation gateways and proxies. The architectural framework will be based on IPv6, the new generation of Internet Protocols that is expected to dramatically expand the reach of IP networks and the types and numbers of devices connected to them.

The U.S. government has mandated that agencies make their backbones capable of handling IPv6 traffic by next month.

'IPv6 was mean to accommodate the millions of things that don't look like computers,' said David Culler, chief technology officer at Arch Rock, of San Francisco, a wireless-sensor networking company, and co-chairman of the ROLL working group. 'That's what this addresses.'

Jean-Philippe Vasseur, distinguished engineer at Cisco Networks, is the group's other co-chairman.

The new working group will build on previous IETF work to standardize IP over low-power wireless links. ROLL will focus on extending interoperable routing.

'We already have a body of routing protocols' suited to different environments, such as backbones or campus networks, but they work together, Culler said. Many new routing protocols address high-bandwidth, high-speed and high-capacity environments, but ROLL will look in the opposite direction, toward small devices with constrained networks. When the Internet goes from its current 1 billion networked devices to the expected 10 billion with IPv6, most of those new devices will be the small ones on so-called lossy networks. 'Their needs are very different from the backbone, but they have to work together.'

The working group will focus on four networking areas:
  • Industrial instrumentation, measurement and controls.
  • Building controls, such as automated lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.
  • Home networks, including security and utility metering.
  • Connected urban environments providing municipal infrastructure and delivering services.

These networks now use industrial or proprietary standards and cannot be easily or securely managed through IP-based networks, such as the Internet.

'It is now critical to specify the most efficient dynamic routing protocols with multivendor interoperability in mind,' Culler said. 'Solutions developed for this new embedded tier of the Internet should naturally extend the ubiquitous IP infrastructure without the protocol translation gateways and proxies that have previously been required.'

Security issues of directly connecting embedded networks with the Internet will be addressed by the working group. Standards-based interconnections raise some security concerns, but the use of a common standard also would make it possible to apply existing IP security technology that does not work in proprietary environments, Culler said.

Much of the group's effort will be directed at building a consensus on what technologies to adopt rather than creating new protocols.

'Adapting the known body of IP routing techniques to a new class of links with specific resource constraints will address the needs of emerging embedded markets far better than nonstandard, non-IP approaches,' said Vasseur. 'The use of IP in low-power networks will enable a variety of new services in connected homes and buildings, factories, and smart cities. The objective is to reuse a number of existing IP-based technologies and extend or adapt them only when needed to address the specific requirements of these networks.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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