Shaping Sustainable Cities: A Deep Dive into Wi-SUN Alliance’s Impact on IoT Communication Standards

The Wi-SUN Alliance is revolutionizing IoT communication standards and shaping the future of interconnected urban environments. In this exclusive interview, Phil Beecher, President & CEO, and Amarjeet Kumar, India Regional Coordinator, unveil the transformative impact of Wi-SUN‘s IoT communication standards on sustainable city development. From unraveling the complexities of interoperability to fortifying cybersecurity measures, Wi-SUN Alliance stands at the forefront of revolutionizing urban connectivity. Gain unique insights on how Wi-SUN’s multi-service networks are redefining the urban landscape, enabling seamless integration of diverse IoT applications. With a focus on emerging technologies such as 5G, Wi-SUN Alliance guides urban infrastructure toward a brighter, more sustainable future.

Can you provide an overview of the formation of the Wi-SUN Alliance and its role in standardization within the IoT communication realm? How does it contribute to building the IoT ecosystem, particularly in the context of smart cities?

Phil: The Wi-SUN Alliance formed 15 years ago to address the lack of standardized smart meter infrastructure deployment in the US utility sector. Collaborating with IEEE 802, we established radio connectivity standards, leading to the formation of Wi-SUN Alliance with nine initial members. Now comprising 350 companies from 46 countries, we focus on building a comprehensive ecosystem for wireless mesh connectivity.

Initially targeting smart metering, our technology’s versatility found broader applications with the rise of IoT. Wi-SUN’s Field Area Network (FAN) technology, rooted in Internet Protocol (IP), provides a robust foundation for large-scale networks. For example, Florida Power and Light integrated 500,000 street lights into their smart meter network, pioneering smart city initiatives.

Wi-SUN FAN protocol, functioning as an “Internet for the Internet of Things,” offers reliability and resilience through its wireless mesh architecture. Its multi-service design supports diverse applications on the same network, akin to the Internet’s versatility.

What significance does the recent adoption of the Wi-SUN FAN specification by BIS hold, and how might it impact smart city initiatives in India?

Phil: BIS’s adoption of the Wi-SUN FAN specification is a pivotal step in standardizing technology, particularly for smart cities. Wi-SUN’s commitment to open standards ensures accessibility and eliminates the need for reinvention. The development of RF technology and security standards underscores the robustness of Wi-SUN FAN.

India’s allocation of spectrum conducive to Wi-SUN technology further catalyzed our collaborative efforts. Led by global participation and experts like Amarjeet Kumar from BIS, we tailored specifications to Indian requirements. This collaborative endeavor ensured alignment with India’s regulatory domain.

BIS’s adoption provides an open standard for developing products within Wi-SUN’s framework. While smart meters initially drove the market, Wi-SUN’s versatility extends to diverse applications. Tokyo Electric Power’s integration of vending machines exemplifies this, showcasing multi-service networks.

BIS’s adoption validates Wi-SUN’s technology and fuels innovation in India’s smart city initiatives, addressing urban challenges with efficiency.

What’s the importance of BIS adopting Wi-SUN FAN for India’s smart RF metering network and its implications for smart city initiatives?

Amarjeet: BIS’s adoption of the Wi-SUN FAN specification is a crucial step in bolstering standards, particularly for critical infrastructure like smart metering and smart cities. Initiated by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, this effort aimed to overcome hurdles hindering India’s smart city initiatives. A pre-standardization study revealed gaps in communication systems, notably the RF Mesh network, pivotal for large-scale IoT deployments globally. Wi-SUN Alliance, formed through collaborative efforts with over 200 companies, addressed these gaps, leading to the adoption of IEEE 2857. BIS’s amendments tailored these standards to Indian needs, ensuring strategic alignment and fostering innovation. This adoption signals India’s commitment to enhancing infrastructure reliability and driving sustainable development nationwide.

What factors led to Tokyo’s comprehensive adoption of the Wi-SUN standard for its electric grid, even extending to vending machines, while India encountered obstacles in its implementation?

Amarjeet: Indeed, there are a few crucial factors to consider. In the Indian landscape around 2014, numerous pilots were underway utilizing the 865-to-867-megahertz spectrum, seemingly without verifying its alignment with standard protocols. This oversight, in my opinion, reflects sheer negligence. Leveraging my involvement with IEEE SA and Wi-SUN Alliance, I identified this gap in standards and seized the opportunity to bridge it. By collaborating with industry stakeholders within IEEE, we developed a standard to ensure the availability of this spectrum—a foundational requirement. Notably, this standardization process was not a relic of the past; it was a recent endeavor, adopted by IEEE in 2022 and subsequently by BIS in 2023. This illustrates the importance of aligning technological initiatives with standardized protocols to establish a robust foundation for sustainable development.

How does the Wi-SUN Alliance approach interoperability and security concerns within the IoT communication space?

Phil: Wi-SUN Alliance recognizes the importance of more than just open standards for seamless integration and robust security in IoT communication. To tackle this, we’ve led the development of a rigorous testing and certification program ensuring device interoperability.

A common industry challenge is products claiming compliance with open standards but failing to integrate effectively. Our certification program rigorously tests devices, guaranteeing compatibility and fostering a cohesive ecosystem.

For cybersecurity, Wi-SUN employs certificate-based security, where each device receives a unique identifier like a passport, granting access to a network. This approach, based on IEEE 802.1x standards, enhances authentication and authorization, eliminating vulnerabilities associated with traditional password systems.

Moreover, certificate-based security reduces compromise risks, as devices store unique identifiers securely within utility servers. By adhering to standardized protocols, Wi-SUN Alliance fortifies IoT networks, enhancing resilience against potential threats.

Amidst the rise of 5G and IoT devices, how do you view the need for standardization, especially with the growing use of IoT and the perception of 5G as a faster communication standard?

Phil: While 5G is gaining traction as a mainstream communication technology, it’s essential to recognize that Wi-SUN’s focus lies primarily in the realm of last-mile communication, specifically the field area network. In this context, the volume of data collected continues to escalate, necessitating robust aggregation points within the network.

Currently, these aggregation points typically rely on Fiber or LTE infrastructure, with a growing trend towards incorporating 5G connectivity. However, it’s crucial to understand that 5G isn’t poised to replace the low-cost, long-lasting battery devices supported by Wi-SUN specifications. These specifications accommodate ultra-low power sensors with battery lifespans spanning 10 to 15 years, a feat unattainable within the realm of 5G networks.

Moreover, the operational expenditure (opex) model associated with cellular networks poses challenges for widespread adoption in IoT deployments. Cellular operators often seek to maximize revenue by deploying SIM cards in every device, resulting in increased costs for end-users. In contrast, Wi-SUN networks offer a balanced approach, typically connecting 500 to 1000 devices through a Data Concentrator Unit (DCU), thereby optimizing costs and efficiency.

While Wi-SUN complements cellular networks, its primary value lies in seamless integration with existing infrastructure. By embracing a complementary stance, Wi-SUN aims to streamline IoT deployments, minimize upgrade costs, and ensure sustainability.

In closing, what are your reflections on how the Wi-SUN Alliance will influence the future of interconnected and sustainable urban environments?

Phil: Wi-SUN Alliance foresees interconnected and sustainable urban environments where Wi-SUN Field Area Network (FAN) serves as a versatile platform, enabling seamless integration of diverse applications. With symmetrical communication, FAN empowers individual nodes for edge applications like outage management, optimizing network efficiency.

One of the key strengths of Wi-SUN FAN lies in its ability to support multiple devices running distinct applications while enabling interconnectivity between them. For instance, integrating smart parking networks with signage systems can optimize parking availability, enhancing urban mobility. Similarly, leveraging road surface temperature sensors to relay real-time data on icy conditions to traffic signs enhances road safety. In essence, Wi-SUN FAN’s multi-service architecture facilitates interconnectivity between various devices, fostering innovation and efficiency in urban environments.

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