I was recently struck by an article that I found a bit terrifying. It was about an automated, cloud connected, IoT pet feeder that stopped feeding pets when it wasn't connected to its' servers. It was yet another Internet of Things failure, but a bit different than the previous fails that mainly consisted of security breaches. This one had a poor failsafe design that didn't take into account the most obvious failure mode, ie: no connection, and defaulted into not feeding the pets when it was supposed to. There are actually many solutions to this, but the main point is that reliability and design was tossed to the wind to focus on how wonderful a cloud connected technology solution to the mundane task of feeding your pet could be. The real tragedy in this story is that real lives were at stake because of this carelessness and it should be a cautionary tale about how much we should trust our technology. 

With all the recent hype surrounding the Internet of Things, many people are focusing on the communications aspect, ie: LPWAN vs cellular, LoRA vs Sigfox vs LTE, etc. It was similar in the great wireless wars in the earlier days of wireless sensor networks and most of that pretty much lead to nothing. A more holistic approach to considering networked objects would be to look at it from a system level. Rather than discussing the communications medium only, a more appropriate analogy might be discussing how IoT services is similar to running an ISP.

Running an ISP is an exercise in logistics. You not only need to think about transporting the data, but also securing it, and making the connections reliable. ISPs generally offer service level guarantees (SLAs) to ensure that the system will be working for a well defined amount of time. In telecom, this is traditionally the five 9's, ie: 99.999% uptime. IoT adds an interesting twist however. It's not merely about people connecting to the internet to surf the web or for webservers to be online to serve data. An "Internet of Things" disruption could end up causing real world damage to the "Things" they are responsible for. This could be a home, a car, or living things such as pets in this case. In the worst case, an unsecured or unreliable link could cause the loss of human life. I don't think that in the rush to create devices for the Internet of Things, that the issue of reliability and redundancy is properly discussed. In cases like this, where lives are on the line (yes, pet lives matter and in most cases are considered part of the family), this issue was obviously not considered carefully since there was no redundant backup in the most common failure mode which is that the devices are offline. 

There's no easy solution to this, but it struck me that with all the focus on the communications technologies that may power the IoT market, we should still consider the fundamentals of communication, which are security and reliability. Communications media comes and goes, but those two are foundation principles in a solid communications infrastructure.

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