IoT needs synchronicity

The secret to IoT could be timing, literally

Although the connected devices of Internet of Things have been predicted to solve problems from wasted food  to highway safety, a new report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicates the IoT might not be quite ready for the giant leap in device connectivity.  In fact, the report indicates the opposite – the IoT could be “stalled by our lack of effective methods to marry computers and networks with timing systems.”

According to the report’s authors, there are persistent concerns regarding how modern systems process and exchange data.  “Imagine writing a letter to your friend saying it is now 2:30 p.m., and then sending it by snail mail so he can synchronize his watch with yours,” said Marc Weiss, one of the report’s authors. “That’s the equivalent of how accurate the timing of messages are in computers and systems right now. The transfer delay must be accounted for to do the things that are expected of the IoT.”

In order to support the massive growth of the IoT, accurate timing needs to be integrated into existing systems, NIST said, and research needs is required in the following areas of synchronization:

  • Oscillators in the network will require a range of trade-offs among performance, power and cost.
  • Time transfer systems will need to deliver signals for an exponential increase in endpoints, with various specifications of accuracy and integrity
  • Time-aware networks, which optimize use of precious spectrum,  will be required to control latency and monitor performance.
  • Timing support for applications will need predictable execution of hardware and software, and standards are needed to control latency and scale issues.
  • Development environments must support timing accuracy independent of the hardware that systems are running on.
  • Applications can be designed that make innovative use of time.

NIST concluded that although there is currently much independent research in these areas, “a dedicated and collaborative ‘across the stack’ research collaboration” is required to support long-term growth of the IoT.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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