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Software Engineer Discusses Using CoAP to Connect the Internet of Things


Software Engineer Discusses Using CoAP to Connect the Internet of Things

January 28, 2015
By Eric Lebowitz
Digital Content Editor

Every week it seems a different research firm releases a new projection for the number of connected devices that will come online over the next several years. Whether the number is 20, 30, or 50 billion, the bottom line is that the figure will be extremely large.

As these devices come online and help grow the Internet of Things (IoT), creating standards that allow these machines to speak to each other becomes critical. As such, IoT standards were the topic of a session titled “CoAP: The Invisible Connector” presented by Simon Lemay, senior software engineer from Zebra Technologies (News - Alert), on Wednesday afternoon at ITEXPO. CoAP (constrained application protocol) is a Web transfer protocol used with constrained nodes and constrained networks in the IoT.

To lead off the presentation, Lemay described why he sought an IoT-related job in the first place; in short, it is an area that is just at the beginning of an explosion that will transform the way we all live.

“IoT is pretty much the next generation of Internet. We’re all here because we understand that,” Lemay explained. “It will connect worlds that have never spoken to each other before.”

As he moved into discussing the importance of standards for IoT development (specifically for smaller devices or “lightweight M2M”) Lemay said that over the next few years, device manufacturers would be looking for hosts as they churn out an incredible number of IP-enabled products.

For instance, at CES this year, Samsung (News - Alert) CEO BK Yoon told the audience during a keynote that by 2017, 90 percent of his company’s offerings will be IoT devices. With that kind of shift coming for both consumer and enterprise devices, standards will only grow more important as time progresses.

“Standards are more than a buzzword,” Lemay explained. “They are a unified language that allows us to connect without meeting before to decide what means what.”

Lemay went on to run down a list of what he believes are the top advantages of using CoAP (constrained application protocol) as an IoT standard. Those advantages include:

  •        The design follows the REST paradigm for small devices, a model already widely understood
  •        It can be easily be connected using an agnostic IoT platform
  •        It was designed to function on limited resources
  •        Because it has a similar feel to HTTP, development skills are transferable

Lemay also briefly discussed Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT), which is considered the other protocol that offers significant promise for use as an IoT standard for lightweight M2M. Rather than engaging in debate, however, Lemay made clear that he doesn’t see the situation as similar to Blu-ray vs. DVD, where one technology will eventually dominate the other. Rather, both CoAP and MQTT will play a significant role in IoT development for smaller devices.

"I always say, 'It’s like picking a favorite color,'” Lemay said. “It all depends on what you are using it for it. If you are painting your child’s bedroom, you probably won’t want to go with blood red. But somewhere else, you might.”

Edited by Alisen Downey

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