6LoWPAN: Looks Bad, Tastes Alright, and Rocks Your World

At first sight, 6LoWPAN seems like a dreadful acronym, but once you actually say it aloud a few times it starts actually making some phonetic sense. That is good, because the chances are that we’ll be referring to it quite frequently in the future. It stands for “IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks” and the technology it refers to is meant to enable wirelessly connected sensors to send data to the web by using IP. The gist of this is that, without IPv6, there wouldn’t be enough IP addresses to go around for the IoT and, without the low-power capability, the sensors with their tiny batteries and processors couldn’t take advantage of the new addressing scheme. The ability to connect the sensors directly to the web is, in turn, a significant piece of the overall IoT puzzle for two main reasons. First, the web can streamline the implementation of cloud-powered IoT applications by minimizing the need for routing sensor traffic over smartphones and other gateway devices. And second, the openness of the web can strengthen the network effect around the IoT.

In this context, I would like to draw your attention to the recent news that Libelium and IBM have partnered to offer a development kit for 6LoWPAN-capable applications. The kit consists of Libelium’s Waspmote sensor platform and IBM research lab’s Mote Runner software. (The “mote” here is IoT parlance for a sensor node, in case you wondered.) In essence, the former allows the developer to connect the physical objects that are required for its use case, while the latter provides a virtualized environment for testing, debugging, and maintaining the applications. This is yet another sign of a real developer landscape building up around the IoT – with forward-looking vendors making purpose-built tools available and the developer community itself, over time, establishing relevant best practices.

If you follow the IoT space but are not yet familiar with Libelium, it would probably be worth your while to take a look at the company, since this certainly will not be the last time you will hear about it. With products like the said Waspmote and Meshlium (a gateway for sensor networks), this Spanish firm has identified a promising niche in making sensor deployments more affordable and cutting down the associated time-to-market. To cite a rather well-known example, the crowdsourced radiation metering following the Fukushima incident in Japan was a powerful demonstration of what this proposition can deliver in creative hands. You don’t have to be a large company with a hefty budget and a legion of system integrators to shed light on previously data-opaque physical assets and environments, and make them part of the digital data universe. This dramatically improving affordability of sensor deployments is a big reason why we in our latest research concluded that IoT/M2M will have a very synergetic relationship with the ongoing big data revolution.

(Excerpted from an ABI Insight.)