WI-SUN Is The Next Step in Bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) into the Internet of Everything

IEEE-SA Wi-Sun Alliance

“Wi-Fi® is a household name; Wi-SUN is not, at least not yet,” says Dr. Robert Heile, director of standards for the Wi-SUN Alliance an industry association developing specifications and certification programs built on IEEE 802.15.4™ standards for Field Area Networks (FANs) and IoT communications. In fact, Wi-SUN may never be a household name, but the results of what it does will soon Wi be all around us.

The radio standard IEEE 802.15.4 was specifically developed to meet the need for wireless inter-device communications, now more commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). There are already a large number of devices that can talk to each other, and it will not be long before the Internet of Things becomes truly ubiquitous. Until then, one challenge that needs to be addressed: Standards often specify many options, and unless there is a common recipe of which ones to use, multi-vendor interoperability is virtually impossible to achieve.
IEEE 802.15.4 is no exception. The Wi-SUN Alliance was initially organized to provide IEEE 802.15.4 certification to ensure interoperability, much like the Wi-Fi Alliance was organized to provide IEEE 802.11™ certification.

Although IEEE 802.15.4 is widely used today for standards-based radio communications between things, there is still a wide variety of vendor-specific networking protocols running over IEEE 802.15.4, which presents a problem for interoperability. Likewise, most protocols are not based on open standards or are consistent with the Internet Protocol (IP) standards and architecture used in today’s Internet.

Then there is the issue of environment. Much of today’s focus is on in-building IoT, things like smart homes and buildings. There is an equally large and important segment outdoors, often referred to as the Smart City. This includes intelligent highway systems, smart street lighting, infrastructure monitoring, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), environmental monitoring, and agriculture, to name but a few. Networking requirements for urban and rural settings are significantly more demanding when dealing with buildings, terrain, foliage, and weather.

To address some of these challenges, the Wi-SUN Alliance has been working closely with both IEEE 802.15 and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and has developed, and just announced, a specification for a Field Area Network (FAN) designed to deliver superior performance for the outdoor IoT. A certification program will be launched later this year. The Wi-SUN FAN solves a number of industry issues. It is based on open standards, it supports IP network architectures, it delivers multi-vendor interoperability and it delivers robust, long range, low power networking for both resource-rich and resource-limited devices. The fact that it is IP-based facilitates the inevitable convergence of the Internet and the Internet of Things, into the Internet of Everything.

Related to that is a new project in IEEE 802.15. As deployment of IEEE 802.15.4 has grown, industry groups, like the Wi-SUN Alliance, have been instrumental in identifying gaps in the standard. Because IEEE 802.15.4 was intended to be put in everything, it was deliberately designed to reduce complexity and cost, and to save energy wherever possible. Many functions that would normally be handled in the radio standard were pushed to higher layers in the networking stack. This is acceptable for a large number of use cases; however, situations are now being identified where this is working against interoperability, convergence in the IP world, and open standards based solutions, since vendors are using proprietary work-arounds to deal with the issue.

The new project, IEEE P802.15.12™, is an independent standard for use with IEEE 802.15.4 which defines an intelligent Upper Layer Interface (ULI). Its independence denotes the choice to use it or not, depending on the application, and ensures there is no danger of upsetting the backward compatibility of IEEE 802.15.4. This ULI will provide a consistent and standardized way of dealing with the services and capabilities that were deliberately left out of IEEE 802.15.4 to maintain its low cost and low complexity.

IEEE P802.15.12™ integrates a number of functions, including IETF 6LOWpan and 6TiSCH, IEEE 802.15.9™ security key management, IEEE 802.15.10™ Layer 2 Routing, and other capabilities already common to IEEE 802.3™ (Ethernet) and IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi). Once complete, it will allow IEEE 802.15.4 to operate in an IP world as easily as IEEE 802.3 and IEEE 802.11 and take advantage of many of the same IP services available to those standards without modification.

When asked about using other communications standards for the long term evolution of the Internet of Everything, Heile chuckles. Says Heile, “The benefits of using IEEE 802® communication standards under IEEE are so obvious that it would be foolish to go anywhere else.” IEEE 802 standards are the most widely used data communications standards on the planet because they deliver high quality and high performance, and continue to evolve and respond to the needs of the global market.” That, coupled with Industry Groups working to ensure multi-vendor interoperability like the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wi-SUN Alliance, are a winning combination.

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