MXC, Enlink, announce blockchain smart city plan, TALQ readies v2.0

Smart cities are one of the most difficult IoT applications to scale. Test pilots are easy, but actually connecting every single process or task that a city needs to function smoothly, before considering adding connectivity to all the other non-mission-critical elements, is a monumental task. Due to the number of stakeholders involved, the idea of an overarching smart city orchestration protocol has proven enticing.

To this end, MXC and Enlink have just announced a new collaboration that will see MXC provide its MXProtocol to Enlink’s smart city hardware. That deal comes shortly after the TALQ Consortium began ramping up to launch its v2.0 certification program.

Of course, many vendors and platforms can solve this problem, with the trade-off being that you are committed to using this platform going forward. Similarly, a cloud application can act as a universal translator, linking all the devices and subsystems used in a smart city, but this can quickly become an unwieldy mess of APIs and custom code.

So, a standard would enable all manner of vendors and suppliers to create products and services for the smart city market that they could be pretty confident would work in whatever system they were installed in, provided that all the components complied to that standard.

To this end, there are a couple of major projects that are aiming to have such an overarching reach. oneM2M is perhaps the most notable, while ETSI is part of the Espresso Project (systEmic Standardization apPRoach to Empower Smart citieS and cOmmunities … apparently), while the ISO has a few standards that could soon be linked into something of an umbrella approach, including ISO 37120. The Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) houses both Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) and the IPSO Alliance (Internet Protocol Smart Objects), and there are many other interoperability standards that could be used in the smart city context.

This multitude of standards has been a problem in the IoT for a while, and while there has been some consolidation among the organizations, the market still looks pretty fragmented – even more so to outsiders. It still seems that there will be more success through market or application specific standards, such as for smart cities, and this is where TALQ and the likes of MXC come in.

MXC (Machine Xchange Coin) is very much a newcomer. Based in Berlin, it is a non-profit firm developing a blockchain-based standard called MXProtocol. The objective is to use blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies to transfer data from edge-devices to applications, in a manner that could compensate the edge-devices for their services. It shares this objective with Constellation Labs (see separate article), but one that is more focused on smart cities (for now at least). There is certainly not a shortage of such blockchain startups.

However, MXC is partnering with EnLink, a company from South Korea that has developed a range of sensors for smart cities. These include a LoRa gateway, an LTE-based search and rescue system, and connected LED lighting chips including one design that has integrated earthquake sensing. The company says it is focused on the convergence of analog and digital sensing and power, with a smart city focus.

The partnership will see Enlink add MXProtocol to its insect traps, semiconductor power line monitoring system, fine dust monitoring system, and earthquake detection system. If the pair get enough volume, they could facilitate a data trading marketplace in South Korea.

This is a huge opportunity for South Koreans to participate in environmental monitoring and disaster management,” said MXC CEO and co-founder Sheen Xin Hu. “By integrating MXProtocol in these solutions, companies, and individuals can deploy it knowing that they are helping their communities while collecting valuable data that can be shared and traded through the MXC inter-chain data market.”

Moving on to the TALQ Consortium, a group that closed out 2018 by announcing that version 2.0 of its smart city standard for central management systems (CMS) was gearing up for certification in March 2019. The November announcement was the success of a pre-certification plugfest, which aimed to see if all the CMS services could control the network and gateways, and (surprise surprise) they could.

TALQ’s main members are Citegestion, Hei, Itron, Schreder, Telensa, Trilliant, and UVAX. Some of the more notable of the 35 or so associate members include GE’s Current, Flashnet, and Lucy Zodion. With v2.0 of TALQ’s Smart City Protocol, which is based on RESTful API calls and the associated JSON device and resource data models, there’s quite a big scope to expand this list of members.

The protocol allows users to configure their devices so that they can be controlled by the CMS, such that it can know sensor readings, control parameters, and available commands, as well as having management and updating capabilities. The Association says this allows developers to freely describe their devices through these TALQ Functions, in a manner that fosters competition among vendors and allows cities to choose from multiple options.

More broadly, the option should provide cities with the ability to consolidate all their smart city and business functions and systems within one CMS, instead of having to juggle multiple CMS tools from multiple vendors. The whitepaper does a good job explaining how this works, and can be found here.

As cities are often under severe budgetary pressure, they harbor a real fear of vendor lock-in. This is not an uncommon worry among IoT customers, but it can be especially acute for cities, that aren’t as able to simply write-off a failure and start a new project. For them, such moves could be political disasters, instead of simply missed targets in a quarterly filing. A system like TALQ’s SCP is a good way to assuage those fears, but TALQ has a long way to go before it can claim to be the primary option for smart city projects.