So the gas meter said to the thermostat, ‘We should talk’

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In the last few weeks I’ve published several blog entries about mobile, but all of them have had to do with smartphones and tablets. There’s more to mobile than just that.

For a recent strategy presentation, my colleagues and I initially thought about how to segment the mobile marketspace and we came up with four categories:

  • Consumer: The apps and the infrastructure that support them
  • Enterprise: Again, the apps and the infrastructure that suport them, this time for companies to interact with their employees, suppliers, partners, and sometimes clients (when they are not viewed as consumers)
  • Network: What happens to support mobile in cell towers and on back
  • Wireless: The so-called Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communication

It didn’t take us long to decide that that Consumer and Enterprise should be merged since many of the features offered, problems to be solved, and technology used were the same. What you are seeing around the whole Bring Your Own Device to work movement further strengthens the idea that they should be considered together.

I’m going to discuss the last area around mobile that is listed above: wireless. Amazingly, this corresponds to an announcement made today that IBM and Eurotech have teamed up to donate software to and start a working group in Eclipse.org around MQTT, the Message Queueing Telemetry Transport protocol.

Admittedly, Message Queueing Telemetry Transport is a mouthful, and it’s no surprise that the acronym MQTT is used more frequently. Whether you like the short form or long form, I and many others think it will be very significant.

If you look around your house or apartment, you see a lot of devices that are very useful but pretty dumb. My thermostat has a modicum of intelligence in that it can learn how long it takes the house to reach a certain temperature and then plan ahead, but there is no way for me to access that over the web: I can’t remotely (Greek: tele) find out what temperature it is measuring (Greek: metron).

Even worse, I can’t remotely measure the gas or electricity use and compare that to the temperature to understand the efficiency of the furnace, optimize my energy use, or alert anyone if a significant problem is detected.

For example, in a seasonal house I might combine this information to respond before the pipes freeze on a particularly cold night.

Now there ways of doing this, especially in the last example. The problem is, when devices like thermostats, fire alarms, carbon monoxide level alarms, flood monitors, clothes dryers, and even refrigerators can convey information about their state, they do it in completely different languages and formats. As they become Things on the Internet, they need to communicate effectively with each other as well as systems that can take in all the varied information and make decisions.

The web works so well because we have the HTTP, the Hypertext Transport Protocol, to move data back and forth between servers and browsers. The hope is that MQTT will do the same for machine to machine communication.

In the example above, we may have smarter houses than 10 years ago, but MQTT could help turn them into actual Smart Houses.

Another example comes from the press release:

For instance, today’s smarter cities allow existing systems to alert operators of a broken water main and report the extent of flooding in streets and subways. However they are often closed systems. An open messaging protocol can be used to openly publish these events, enabling public and private transit systems to share and monitor these critical alerts. As a result, agencies would be able to adjust traffic signals, change routes, and notify commuters of alternative routes, transportation, lodging and meals on their mobile devices.

For more information about today’s announcement see:

P.S.: A very happy 10th birthday to Eclipse.org. From a $40M software donation by IBM, the organization has grown to encompass “273 open source projects at Eclipse.org; 1057 committers located around the world, more than half in Europe; 50+ million lines of code across all Eclipse projects; 174 member companies of the Eclipse Foundation.”

Eclipse is one of the most important open source organizations and has radically changed the nature and economics of the software development world. May their second decade be as productive the first.