Beware the Internet of Things Hype

The “Internet of Things” is a misnomer. Maybe that’s why Internet of Things forecasts are often exaggerated.

Now that we’ve connected nearly every person on the planet, the focus has shifted to connecting things.

No doubt more and more things will be connected to the internet. However, as I discussed in a previous post, predictions about the scale and pace of growth are inflated. This is partly because the “Internet of Things” is a misnomer.

Estimates of the number of things already connected to the internet (2016) are all over the map, ranging from around 6 billion to over 15 billion. The only possible explanation for such a large discrepancy is that forecasters don’t agree about the types of things that qualify. For instance, should a wearable device that uploads data to a smartphone once per day count?

Similarly, forecasts for the number of things that will be connected to the internet by 2020 run from 26 billion all of the way up to 50 billion. Analysts become giddy when they realize that there are well over one trillion things that could potentially be connected to the Internet. Though the most optimistic forecasts assume that RFID or NFC tags will be attached to everyday items, and that somehow qualifies them for membership in the Internet of Things.

Note that even the most conservative forecasts would require connecting at least 3 billion new things to the internet each year. That works out to more than 8 million things per day. Connecting that many things isn’t impossible — consumers worldwide buy well over one million gadgets each day. However, it took the mobile phone industry more than 30 years to reach 6 billion total subscriptions. Remember also that forecasters were predicting tens of billions of things would be connected to the internet within five years back in 2004.

Not surprising, there is a great deal of confusion about what is meant by the Internet of Things. Ten years ago, it was understood that the Internet of Things referred to machines as distinct from consumer devices. Since then, the dividing line between consumer devices and machines has blurred. Today, your phone is as adept at tracking your motion and location as it is at letting you make and receive calls. Consequently, the Internet of Things now includes not only sensors and actuators in oil pipelines, but components in smartphones and televisions that can be queried or instructed to execute commands. Perhaps that’s why companies such as Cisco, Intel, and Qualcomm talk about the “Internet of Everything.”

The Internet of Things lumps together markets at different stages of development that really deserve to be examined separately. It doesn’t help to speak about opportunities in environmental monitoring, health care and transportation as if they are just different facets of one huge market. The buyers, motivations, and application requirements in each of these industries are very different. Understanding and addressing their specific needs is key to success.

There are also some technical issues that challenge widespread assumptions about the Internet of Things. While many types of things can benefit from connectivity, they are not necessarily best served by being connected directly to the internet.

Arguably, every human being should have internet access, because the internet is a fabulous resource for learning, communicating, and shopping. But not every sensor and actuator needs to be directly connected to the internet.

Francis DaCosta, author of Rethinking the Internet of Things, uses the Mars Rover as an illustration. It makes more sense for the Mars Rover to analyze its own sensor data and make on-the-spot navigation decisions than to send the data all the way back to Earth and wait for commands. That doesn’t preclude Earth-based engineers intervening when the Mars Rover isn’t making sufficient progress. However, efficiency, privacy, and security are compelling reasons for keeping as much of the decision-making local as possible.

Similarly, requiring every device to support the internet protocol (IP) is self-defeating. Sensors have come down in size, price and power consumption, enabling them to be used more widely. Insisting on IP support adds back cost and complexity. A better arrangement is to permit simple sensors and actuators to communicate with local hubs possessing the intelligence to filter, reformat and package data as needed.

What’s driving the connection of things to the internet? Things are used to collect information in the field and apply it where it makes the most difference. It’s this rich flow of information that enables digital business models and digital user experiences.

For instance, medical gadgets can be used by patients to detect health problems before hospitalization becomes necessary, to shorten hospital stays, and to reduce readmission rates. Dr. Eric Topol predicts that the continuing advance of medical technology will lead to a future with far fewer hospitals. Hospitals will be mainly for intensive care.

There has been too much chatter about the fantastic number of things that will be connected to the internet. Instead, the focus should be on how individual industries can connect the right things to create unprecedented value for customers.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

How Mexico went from telecom laggard to mobile trailblazer

Twenty years ago only one out of 10 people in Mexico had a telephone of any kind. Today, more than 100 million people (out of a population of roughly 125 million) have cell phones and, more amazingly, more than 70 percent of those are smartphones. To keep up the torrid growth, scrappy competitors are offering smartphones for every budget and plans that let users choose right from their handsets which services they want and how much they want to spend.

Three factors have catapulted Mexico’s mobile industry into the 21st century. First, Mexico has grown into the world’s 11th largest economy (in terms of purchasing power) in just the last two decades. Second, millennials are Mexico’s largest demographic group (they make up more than half of Mexico’s online population) and they want and expect what their counterparts in developed countries have. And third, the towering presence of a company that Mexico’s government considers a monopoly in both the landline and mobile markets has spurred its smaller (though not unsubstantial) competitors to be more inventive and aggressive.

That monopoly is the creation of a man who for four years in a row was ranked the world’s wealthiest individual, Carlos Slim. His flagship business, America Móvil, is one of the largest telecom concerns in the world, with operations in nearly 30 countries.

The telecom titan controls roughly 80 percent of Mexico’s landline market and 70 percent of its mobile market. The Mexican government has been trying unsuccessfully for years to break up Slim’s empire. However, his mobile competitors aren’t waiting for that to happen. Instead, they are challenging the status quo that America Móvil is struggling to preserve by bringing innovative technology and business models to Mexico’s mobile market.

Mexico’s second largest mobile operator, Telefónica, is shaking up the market by offering users a more modern solution for purchasing and managing mobile services. As the fifth-largest mobile operator in the world, Telefónica has the financial assets and know-how to give America Móvil serious competition. The company introduced a new service, branded as Movistar On, in response to the rampant confusion and frustration among consumers that it discovered through intensive market research.

Telefónica partnered with Silicon Valley-based ItsOn to build Movistar On around that firm’s cloud-client platform. “Cloud-client” is the architecture of choice among internet phenoms like Amazon and Uber. The cloud component enables the operator to quickly introduce new services, while the client piece gives users the self-service functionality that millennials crave. The combination enables Telefónica’s marketers to engage subscribers directly, presenting them with timely offers and closely tracking their choices.

While traditional mobile operators force users to purchase data by the megabyte or gigabyte, Movistar On gives users more comprehensible buying options, such as “1 day of YouTube,” “3 days of Netflix,” and “30 days of Spotify.”

Users can see exactly what they’ve used at any point in the billing cycle and make adjustments right from their phones. This appeals to millennials who prefer self-service over calling customer service and being put on hold, and who feel they have a right to know exactly what they are getting for their money. Such are the expectations of young people who have grown up with the internet and smart devices.

Mexico’s third-largest mobile carrier, AT&T Mexico, holds the remaining 10 percent of the market. The company is leveraging its operations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to provide seamless service throughout the North American Hispanic community. With smartphones, subscribers can keep in touch with friends and family just by participating in the same social networks, and by using over-the-top services that make voice and even video calls more affordable.

The shift to smartphones in Mexico has been nothing short of spectacular. Smartphone penetration soared from 17.9 percent in the second quarter of 2014 to 59.8 percent in the third quarter of 2015. That means the number of smartphone users tripled in little over a year. Why are so many Mexican users making a relatively big investment in their phones? Because a smartphone gives them all of the capabilities of telephones, TVs and personal computers in a single device that is loaded with intelligence and goes wherever they go.

Despite America Móvil’s dominance, which is very real, Mexico’s mobile users have compelling choices, and the way that operators are competing for their business is a case study for mobile carriers everywhere.

Mexico’s millennials did not grow up in a wired world with its physical limitations and bureaucratic practices. They are flocking to smart devices that add new features almost on a weekly basis. They demand mobile operators find new ways to engage and empower them — and Mexico’s mobile operators are advancing to make it happen.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at TechCrunch. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

6 reasons why enterprise drones are on course

In the future, large corporations are expected to employ fleets of drones.

Ten years ago, drones were mainly used by spy agencies and the military. Now they are finding all sorts of recreational and commercial uses.

A drone can video you as you ski down a mountain. Or it can inspect the top of a cell tower, eliminating the need for someone to make a dangerous climb. A “hover camera” can follow caregivers in the ER, helping them avoid mistakes.

The release of rules for commercial drone use by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), expected any day now, will bring us a step closer to a future in which packages are delivered to your door within minutes.

Here are six reasons why there will likely be a future for drones in your enterprise:

1. Drones save time, money, and even lives

Drones aren’t just for thrilling aerial photography. Drones can complete inspections quickly — avoiding prolonged shutdowns of gas flares. Drones can examine critical infrastructure such as electric transmission towers and bridges. Drones avoid sending inspectors into dangerous environments.

UK-based Sky-Futures is using beach ball-shaped drones to inspect the insides of hazardous chemical storage tanks. Cyberhawk Innovations, headquartered in Scotland, uses drones to inspect things that would be difficult and dangerous for people to inspect, such as the underdecks of offshore oil rigs.

According to Sensefly, a provider of drone-based mapping systems in Switzerland, regular flyovers enable early identification of problems in the crop fields of large farms. Drones avoid the expense of manned flyovers and can be used when cloud coverage makes satellite imaging impossible.

Drones are invaluable for search-and-rescue, fighting wildfires and news gathering. Persistent Systems, a developer of mobile ad hoc networks, has teamed up with Aeryon Labs, a provider of small unmanned aerial vehicle (sUAV) systems, to make fighting forest fires safer and more effective. By equipping both fire fighters on the ground and drones with broadband mobile radios, the command center knows exactly where each fire fighter is in relation to the fire and can show them (using body-worn radios with tablets) exactly where to go. Mobilicom, an Israeli firm, has also developed a mobile mesh technology that enables broadband communication between drones and users on the ground in urban areas.

In the future, large corporations will employ fleets of drones to further automate their internal operations. For instance, Wal-Mart is experimenting with drones to better manage warehouses.

2. Drones take advantage of developments in related fields such as mobile phones and robots

One reason we are seeing so much progress in drones is that algorithms have been developed to ensure stable flight, make piloting easy, and even enable autonomous operation.

The same chips that power cell phones can be used by drones. Intrinsyc provides reference designs for drones based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips. Like mobile phones, drones can perform multiple tasks, such as controlling flight paths, gathering visual data, tracking location and communicating with the ground.

Drones may also be thought of as flying robots. One view is that drones developed for hobbyists evolved to perform tasks that were previously accomplished at far greater cost and risk using helicopters and small airplanes. Olaeris believes, in contrast, that many enterprise applications require an unmanned aircraft capable of vertical takeoff and landing — what the firm refers to as “the 21st century helicopter.”

3. New FAA rules are expected to end years of uncertainty

Many people say that the FAA has held back the U.S. drone industry. Technically, there’s no legal way in the U.S. to just start using drones in commercial applications. Companies must apply for exemptions under Section 333 of the FAA’s rules for unmanned aircraft systems (UAVs). In fact, until recently hobbyists had more rights than commercial operators. A recent ruling finally allows commercial operators to fly drones up to an altitude of 400 feet.

The FAA has promised to enact its first rules for commercial use of drones in mid-2016. However, commercial users will be limited to visual line of sight operation. But there are key applications in which maintaining visual contact is problematic, such as inspecting pipelines hundreds of miles long and the insides of large storage tanks.

While the FAA has been slow to act, it seems genuinely committed to the integration of drones in the national airspace system. Some of the FAA’s caution is no doubt due to concerns about air travel safety and the potential use of drones by terrorists.

4. New technical capabilities are making drones more useful

Today there are drones for every need. Rotary wing drones are good at hovering and fixed-wing drones can fly long distances. Though most battery-powered rotary wing drones can only stay aloft for about 20 minutes, tethers can be used to deliver power, enabling them to hover over the same spot for days.

In addition to algorithms that ensure stable flight, software has been developed for autonomous flying. A drone may be configured to automatically return to its launch point if it loses contact with the ground or senses that its battery charge is low. Drones can be programmed to stay within a geo-fenced area. Algorithms are being developed for collision avoidance and software is being developed to enable coordination between drones and larger aircraft.

Popular add-ons for drones include sensors, cameras and data storage devices. Spotlights can be mounted on drones for night-time search-and-rescue missions. Drones can be equipped with retractable cords for delivering packages (sidestepping the problems associated with landing).

5. Tools are being developed to ensure safety, privacy, and security

The public has three areas of concern regarding drones. First, drones must not create safety hazards for existing air traffic. Second, drone operators must not be allowed to spy on homes. Third, precautions must be taken to prevent terrorists from using drones to attack crowded venues such as sports stadiums and outdoor music festivals.

A number of safety solutions have been proposed or are under development. Amazon suggests keeping airspace for drones and larger aircraft segregated, while Google proposes the use of technology to ensure that all aircraft are kept at a safe distance from each other and tall objects.

AirMap has developed a low-altitude airspace management solution that includes a geographic information system covering the entire U.S. that can be accessed via the Web or iOS devices. PrecisionHawk has teamed up with Verizon, Harris and DigitalGlobe to provide “safety as a service.” The firm’s LATAS (low altitude traffic and airspace safety) leverages information about obstructions, existing aircraft tracking solutions and real-time communication with drones (via cellular LTE).

Privacy rules have yet to be worked out, but people don’t want drones photographing them in their backyards, peaking inside their homes or providing exterior details useful to burglars.

SkySafe has developed technology to disable drones that enter restricted areas such as the airspace around stadiums and nuclear power plants.

6. The industry is moving cautiously but steadily toward achieving its Holy Grail, drone delivery

Companies including Amazon, DHL, Domino’s, Google and Walmart have expressed keen interest in drone delivery. Drones can enable ultra-fast delivery in urban areas of items ordered from smartphones. There is also excitement about using drones to deliver medical supplies to remote locations. Companies such as Flirtey and Matternet are already demonstrating these capabilities.

Widespread use of drone delivery faces a number of challenges. While delivery vans and drivers are expensive, the cost is spread over many packages. Still, there are situations in which people might pay quite a bit extra for fast delivery, such as when they suddenly realize they need tools, supplies or gifts.

Safety and liability are also major concerns. What happens if a drone loses power or otherwise fails in mid-flight, causing damage to property or injuring someone? Even if this were extremely rare, it would generate a great deal of bad publicity. In heavily populated areas, should delivery drones fly over homes and backyards or should they keep to public roadways?

Delivery drones will surely be used in applications for which cost is not a concern, such as rushing defibrillators to treat persons in cardiac arrest. In many large cities, you can’t count on getting there quickly enough via ground transportation.

We live in a world that values speed and safety. Drones have come a long way from just chasing after the bad guys.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

5 misguided reasons for asking wireless carriers to manage smart home networks

Wireless operators managing smart home devices using newly acquired 600 MHz spectrum is a bad idea that defeats the purpose of smart home technology.

Last week, a guest editorial by Jerome Rota of Greenwave Systems titled, “How to Bring the ‘Internet of Things’ to Life” appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rota suggested that wireless operators should manage smart home networks using spectrum acquired in the FCC’s 600 MHz auction. This is a bad idea for several reasons.

Mainly, it misses the point of investing in a “smart home.” Consumers want more control of their homes. They want to save money on energy, security, and entertainment. And they want to take advantage of capabilities made possible by technologies including smartphones, cloud computing, voice recognition, and machine learning.

Let’s dissect Mr. Rota’s arguments.

1.   “Today a smart home nearly requires an IT specialist.”

The first products based on new technology are often difficult to set up and manage. They are typically purchased by more technically-savvy early adopters.

Mr. Rota’s solution — having wireless carriers perform these tasks — could short-circuit the development of more user-friendly products and would saddle consumers with unnecessary monthly fees.

As smart home devices and networks mature they will become easier to set up and manage. Some of these products are already blazing new trails in the ease-of-use department. For instance, when I get up in the morning I simply ask my Amazon Echo what the weather forecast is for the day. There’s no need to wake up my PC, open a browser, and click on a bookmark.

As I described in my introductory post about smart homes, dozens of vendors are collaborating to ensure that their products work together, and industry groups are developing smart home standards and open-source code that will hopefully lead to universal interoperability.

2.   “Plenty of cool, connected and smart stuff is available for purchase, but the technology still requires a prohibitive amount of effort to get going. And even then, it often doesn’t work the way it should.”

Mr. Rota raises a valid complaint.

However, these problems are not inherent to smart home devices and networks. As bugs are ironed out and designs are improved, smart home devices will become easier to set up, and they will work the way that consumers expect.

One of the industry’s top goals is to develop smart home networks that ordinary consumers can set up and manage. After all, that is the meaning of “smart.” Putting wireless carriers in charge of smart home networks would be like giving up and admitting defeat.

3.   “This low-frequency bandwidth, in layman’s terms, isn’t great for carrying big loads of data, so it won’t be much help in streaming high-definition Netflix on your iPhone. But it is fantastic at traveling long distances and penetrating buildings — past metal doors and through concrete basements, where your cell coverage now wanes.”

Mr. Rota is partially correct. Compared to the higher frequencies used by mobile phone networks and wireless LANs, the 600 MHz band is a good choice for reaching “things,” particularly outdoors.

However, the immediate task for most smart home devices is to talk to each other. This is the best way to ensure security and to minimize battery power consumption. It takes significantly more power to reach a tower one mile away — particularly for a device installed in the basement or on the wrong side of a refrigerator. Low-power wireless mesh networks are a better fit.

Most homes are already connected to the Internet. It makes more sense to install a wireless mesh equipped with an Internet gateway device. This enables remote control and access to cloud-based services, but without compromising smart home network security and battery life.

4.   “Perhaps worse, security remains a major issue, in part because it’s difficult to update software as device manufacturers release patches and bug fixes…With all the apps, boxes and devices needing updates, you would need a full-time IT specialist to make your home truly smart.”

Security is a major issue, but not for this reason.

 Most smart home devices are either connected to the Internet or controlled directly by a smartphone. Therefore, most of the devices and apps are capable of receiving automatic software updates.

There are two security challenges for smart home networks: 1. Ensuring that only devices authorized by the user can connect to the network; and 2. Keeping the data private. Devices that communicate at high frequencies using low power are much less likely to be heard outside the home than devices that communicate at low frequencies with enough power to reach the nearest cell towers.

What’s needed are not smart home networks that are managed by the present day equivalent of The Phone Company, but smart devices that any consumer can install and configure, and networks that are self-healing and easy to manage and (on the rare occasions when it becomes necessary) troubleshoot.

5.   “The Internet of Things could be listed as a service on wireless or cable bills. Consumers could purchase whatever smart stuff they want — a smart lightbulb or thermostat, say — and simply activate the devices with their mobile carriers upon installation.”

You can already buy smart lightbulbs that you only need to screw in and pair with your smartphone. There’s little if any advantage to getting a mobile carrier involved.

A smart thermostat is different because the installation is more complicated. Some homeowners can do the install themselves, while others might want to hire a professional. Like a smart lightbulb, a smart thermostat can be paired with a smartphone or added to a low-power wireless mesh network. Again, there’s little if any advantage to getting a mobile carrier involved.

Having smart home capabilities added to your wireless or cable bill is not an enticing prospect. The ideal smart home solution should enable users to add, change and remove devices without consulting a third party. It should be self-healing: the network should automatically find a way around a failed node.

Finally, the ideal smart home network should automatically notify the homeowner when a device stops functioning or needs a new battery, and it should tell the homeowner exactly what to do to fix the problem.

Mr. Rota tries to nail down his argument by pointing out that enterprises are already working with wireless carriers to bring IoT applications to life. These applications typically involve tracking and managing things that are scattered over a wide area, so they require the long range wireless connectivity that wireless carriers already provide.

Mr. Rota suggests that same technology just needs to be scaled for consumer use. Actually, industrial IoT and smart homes are very different applications calling for different solutions.

Consumers don’t want to pay additional monthly fees to set up and manage smart home devices. In fact, they see smart thermostats, do-it-yourself security devices and Internet TV as tools they can use to reduce and even eliminate monthly expenses.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

The race to create smart homes is on

Smartphones, mesh networks and cloud computing are enabling the long-awaited smart home. Standards and open-source software could make them ubiquitous.

The Jetsons TV series captured the popular imagination in the 1960s with its portrayal of the future. The Jetsons’ home featured videophones, a robot housekeeper and a kitchen filled with push-button conveniences. After decades of slow progress, our homes are poised to become much more automated. We are even ahead of The Jetsons in a few areas.

Most homes in the U.S. already possess powerful building blocks: digital TVs, computers with Internet access, microprocessor-controlled appliances. A growing percentage of households have taken their first steps toward the future with Internet TV, wireless security systems and a growing roster of voice- and smartphone- controlled devices.

Two things are needed to make homes truly “smart.” First are sensors, actuators and appliances that obey commands and provide status information. There are already hundreds if not thousands of smart home products on the market. These have evolved in recent years beyond simple door sensors and light switches to smart thermostats such as Nest and voice command devices such as the Amazon Echo.

Second are protocols and tools that enable all of these devices, regardless of vendor, to communicate with each other. However, this is a major undertaking and it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, smartphone apps, communication hubs and cloud-based services are enabling practical solutions that can be implemented right now.

The smart home creates opportunities for enterprises in areas such as home security, energy management and health care. Businesses that sell security alarms, smoke detectors, and water sensors can provide remote monitoring and reporting. Utilities that set prices based on anticipated demand can provide this information so that smart appliances can schedule optional tasks for when prices are low. And as the population ages, remote monitoring services will enable the elderly and chronically ill to continue living in their own homes. Recognizing this opportunity, InterDigital has developed a cloud-based platform (oneMPower) to help enterprises bring smart home and other IoT applications to market faster.

Today’s smart home ecosystems

Two industry groups were founded in the early 2000s to enable smart home products from different vendors to communicate and interoperate over low-power wireless networks. These networks employ a mesh topology to deliver easy setup, long battery life and entire home coverage.

The Z-Wave Alliance was founded in 2005 and boasts more than 375 member companies and 1,500 certified products. Z-Wave technology operates in the 900 MHz band and is supported by companies including ADT Security Services and Samsung SmartThings. Z-Wave is the leading wireless solution for home automation — with tens of millions of devices sold — thanks mainly to its use in home security systems.

The ZigBee Alliance released its first specification in 2005. The group claims 425 members and more than 1,000 certified products. ZigBee is based on the 802.15.4 standard and has options for both the 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz bands. The ZigBee Alliance has also developed a number of application profiles to ensure that specific types of products (such as “smart energy”) speak the same language.

Several vendors have created their own smart home ecosystems that work with products from other vendors. Examples include Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit, Belkin WeMo, Insteon, Iris by Lowe’s, Philips Hue, Nest, SmartThings and Wink. Let’s take a closer look at three.

Amazon has revolutionized voice control and streaming audio for the home with its Echo device. Echo is an omnidirectional speaker with seven built-in microphones that uses the cloud-based Alexa Voice Service to let consumers access information, play content and give commands. Echo uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and works with smart home products including Nest, Philips Hue and SmartThings. Echo also works with radio and music services such as Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. Echo and the Alexa smartphone app can be used to set timers and alarms, create to-do lists and order food.

While Amazon is collaborating with other vendors to expand the list of products and services that work with Echo, the clever cloud-based service IFTTT, which stands for “If this then that,” enables users to create their own recipes of triggers and actions. For instance, if you misplace your phone while at home you can ask Alexa to ring it using the IFTTT recipe you created.

Apple HomeKit permits iOS devices to control a wide range of smart devices in the home. Devices can be controlled directly from their apps or through Apple’s Siri voice recognition interface. Multiple actions can be linked together creating what Apple calls “scenes.” HomeKit works with products from other vendors including remotely controlled door locks, smart thermostats, and outdoor video cameras.

Samsung SmartThings supports Z-Wave and ZigBee wireless communication and can talk to IP devices through the consumer’s router. What makes SmartThings particularly interesting is that it offers a do-it-yourself alternative for home security with no monthly fees. Products include motion sensors, sensors for detecting when doors or windows are opened, video cameras and dozens of compatible products from other vendors (including sirens). The only thing missing is the “protected by” security sign.

Coming standards and open source software

Several organizations are developing standards and open-source code — either specifically for smart homes or more generally for the Internet of Things. There is some overlap between these efforts, but there’s also plenty of work that needs to be done. Here are three notable groups:

The Thread Group was started by Google’s Nest Labs and six partners (ARM, Haiku Home, NXP, Samsung Electronics, SiliconLabs and Yale Security) “To create the very best way to connect and control products in the home.” Like ZigBee, Thread is built on top of the 802.15.4 standard but employs 6LoWPAN wireless technology for end-to-end IP support. The Thread stack is an open standard designed to enable easy setup, self-healing networks (no single device can cause an entire network to fail), robust security, total home coverage using a mesh topology and long battery life. Though The Thread Group only began accepting members in late 2014, it now boasts more than 230 members, has released the first Thread specification and has started product certification testing.

The AllSeen Alliance was started by Qualcomm to develop open-source software (AllJoyn) to facilitate interoperable devices, applications, and services. The goal is to ensure that all products in the same category (such as lighting) speak the same language. AllJoyn is code that anyone can use (per its open-source license) rather than a specification. The Alliance now has over 200 members and is managed by the Linux Foundation.

The Open Connectivity Foundation is developing both specifications and open-source code for the Internet of Things. The OCF was announced in February of this year and subsumes the former UPnP Forum which was established to promote universal plug and play protocols.

Growing the market

Standards and open-source code will enable the smart home market to achieve its full potential. But as Mitchell Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, points out, the industry needs to first focus on the use cases. It’s creative devices and cloud-based services that do what consumers want and need that will bring our smart home dreams to life.

This commentary by Ira Brodsky first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

FDA steamrolls patients’ rights, states fight back

The following OpEd appeared in The Daily Caller:

Believe it or not, there is a battle underway in the US over whether terminally ill patients who have exhausted all government-approved treatments have the right to try experimental drugs. You might think that in a country founded on the principles of limited government and individual rights, citizens would be free to choose any health remedy in a last-ditch effort to save their own lives. But that’s not the way it is: Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) exclusive power to approve drugs, and the FDA believes that even people who are dying must be protected from unproven therapies.

What makes this all the more outrageous is that while terminally ill patients don’t have the right to take experimental drugs to save their lives, they do have the right to take drugs to end their lives. The United States Supreme Court upheld a state law permitting physician-assisted suicide in 2006, and it is now legal in four states.

Heartbreaking stories about dying patients pleading for access to promising but not-yet-approved drugs forced the FDA to act years ago. The FDA created an “expanded access” program in 1987 enabling patients to apply for special permission to try investigational drugs. But there were complaints that the FDA wasn’t giving all patients a fair hearing. That led to the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997 establishing more formal expanded access program rules.

Nearly 20 years later, terminally ill patients and their physicians must still jump through multiple hoops with no reliable way of predicting the outcome. To have a chance, the patient must obtain the approval of a physician and an institutional review board (IRB). The FDA estimates it takes physicians on average 100 hours to complete the forms. (The FDA has been showing a draft form that it says can be completed in just 45 minutes since February 2015, but more than one year later the miracle form still hasn’t been released.) The IRB is a local committee established to protect research subjects from physical and psychological harm. Even if the physician and IRB recommend approving the patient’s application, the FDA reserves the right to say “no.”

The deck is clearly stacked against dying patients who must find physicians willing to work many extra hours with no guarantee of success.

The FDA points to the expanded access program as proof that it is compassionate. But for some patients the program has failed spectacularly. Kianna Karnes, a mother of four children suffering from kidney cancer, requested access to two promising drugs. She didn’t qualify to participate in clinical trials. Her family lobbied on her behalf for months and finally the FDA approved her application. But it was too late: Kianna Karnes died later that day. While the FDA’s defenders complain that activists are giving terminally ill patients false hope, both of the drugs that Karnes sought access to were eventually approved by the FDA for treating kidney cancer.

How did a federal agency acquire the power to decide who lives and who dies? The FDA is an ominous example of how a government agency can gradually accumulate the power to deprive citizens of their rights and hobble entire industries.

Over most of US history, citizens were free to take whatever medicines they wished. Ironically, it wasn’t until effective and often life-saving drugs appeared in the 20th century that strict regulations were introduced.

Many federal drug regulations were created in response to widely reported acts of negligence or wrongdoing. Concerns about the safety of preservatives and other additives led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. During the mid-1930s, the S.E. Massengill Company introduced a sulfa drug in liquid form. The company tested the drug for safety but forgot to test the solvent. More than 100 patients died from kidney failure. That prompted Congress to pass the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, a law requiring government approval of new drugs and medical devices. A series of amendments and additional laws expanded the FDA’s power. The 1951 Durham-Humphrey amendment gave the FDA the power to require prescriptions for certain drugs.

The 1962 Kefauver Harris Amendment was the turning point, however. Enacted in response to the thalidomide tragedy in Europe, it required manufacturers to prove not only that new drugs are safe, but that they are effective. This amendment is responsible for adding years of delays and $billions in cost to life-saving drugs. Worse, it led to the misguided notion that if a new drug only cures 5% of patients, then it should be denied approval.

Recently, terminally ill patients and their families have been fighting back. “Right to try” laws have been passed in 25 states. These laws have many of the same requirements as the FDA’s expanded access program. The biggest difference is that a state government rather than the FDA is in charge. Right to try laws work because state governments are less conflicted about granting dying patients access to drugs that have not yet been approved, and the FDA is reluctant to challenge states’ rights.

Why is this end run necessary? The FDA has a habit of implementing reforms and creating new programs with one hand, while obstructing and delaying with the other. Darcy Olsen, President of the Goldwater Institute and author of The Right to Try, likens the FDA’s behavior to the famous gag in the Peanuts comic strip in which Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown to kick, but pulls it away at the very last instant, leaving Charlie sprawled on the ground.

The FDA claims that it “fast tracks” approval of promising drugs. However, that’s misleading: The FDA measures approval from the time that a new drug application (NDA) is submitted, but the NDA is actually the last step in a lengthy process. Companies don’t submit NDAs until the FDA tells them that they’ve met all research, development, and clinical trial requirements. For instance, the FDA claims that it took just six months and 24 days to approve Beleodaq (for treating peripheral T-cell lymphoma), but it actually took over nine years.

According to President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, it takes 14 years to bring a new drug to market in the US — up from eight years in the 1960s. Right to try laws passed by states enable new drugs to start saving patients’ lives much sooner.

A compelling case can be made that some drugs and medical devices should be closely monitored for safety, quality, and accurate labels. Whether federal regulations or industry self-regulation works best is a debate for another time. But one thing is clear: the effectiveness of a medical therapy may vary from one patient to another, and in no case should a government agency’s assessment of effectiveness be allowed to deprive patients, companies, and entire industries of their rights.

Ira Brodsky is the author of The History & Future of Medical Technology.