Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Impressions from Jfokus 2017: Internet of Things (IoT)

Dear Junior

The annual developer conference Jfokus is always an almost overwhelming source of impressions. There is always lots of interesting presentations, and today was no exception. It's impossible to cover all of them, but today I attended three presentations that together formed a nice whole as they covered different aspects of IoT - Internet of Things.

During the IoT keynote Kevin Hoyt went very down to earth. He covered the state of IoT devices today using different means of connectivity as his starting point. My main take-away was his very thorough coverage of each "typical" device for Bluetooth-, WiFi-, and GSM-connectivity. For each type he demoed the device, showed the development environment, and discussed programming concerns: for example the importance of entering deep sleep when working on a device using Bluetooth and powered by battery. Specifically I took away how the libraries have evolved to make connectivity and features like deep sleep and wake-up-on-connect.

The other presentation that fitted nicely into the topic was the presentation Shahid Raza of RI.SE (Research Institute of Sweden), formerly SICS (Swedish Institute of Computer Science) held under the title "Is IoT Security a Nightmare?". I simply assumed that the question was purely rhetorical, and had expected a "yes" with some elaborations on the subtler points. Boy, was I mistaken. The overarching message of the presentation was a resounding "no". In fact the current protocol stack for IoT has evolved a lot and now even support end-to-end security of communication, even when the data package has to make multi-hops from one device to another before ending up at its final destination. The protocols for doing this are essentially structured in the same way as we do with certificates and HTTPS over TLS. The largest surprise for me was that the computation power needed for cryptographic computation is not a problem. I was under the impression that the power needed for those computations would take too much of a toll from the batteries of battery-powered devices, but apparently not. The largest toll is apparently the radio-transmission of data packages. And, the protocol folks have worked hard to compress the protocol stack so that the overhead-parts of each package (delivery info and security) is compressed so that there is more room for the payload. In that way, fewer packages are needed for the same amount of payload, and that is where you conserve a lot of battery power.

The third presentation was on the just-released Bluetooth 5 standard and was held by Ioannis Glaropoulos. He presented how the new standard has increased throughput of Bluetooth to 2 Mbps, making it feasible for e g streaming audio, which makes the protocol useable for more use-cases. Counter to intuition this might actually decrease battery consumption because the same amount of data can be sent in a shorter amount of time, diminishing the risk of interferences and resending the data. So the amount of energy needed per byte sent might be lower. Bluetooth 5 also features a longer range. For indoor use the main advantage is simpler topologies: many devices can connect directly to a central node or gateway, instead of having to form a mesh where some devices need to route-forward messages from more distant devices. This also conserves energy for the intermediary devices that doesn't need to wake up to forward messages, but can stay in deep sleep until they have something they want to transmit.

Put together these three presentations definitely broadened and deepened my understanding of where Internet of Things stand today. Something that is a worth outcome of a day at a conference.