“The Internet of Things” takes a step forward with new IPv6 routing protocol

April 22, 2011 - 5 Comments

Guest post by JP Vasseur, Cisco fellow and co-chair of the IETF Working Group responsible for RPL standardization

JP Vasseur

The development of “the Internet of Things” and networks of “smart objects” recently took a significant step forward as a new dedicated routing protocol was adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF – http://www.ietf.org/).  Known as RPL, this new IPv6-based protocol will help to drive international standardization across the many companies working actively to promote the adoption of networks of smart objects.

The industry has for some time being working to develop new IPv6 protocols designed specifically for constrained networking environments such as IP smart objects. These smart objects typically have to operate with very limited processing power, memory and under low energy conditions, and as a result, require a new generation of routing protocols to help them connect to the outside world. When compared to computers, laptops or even today’s generation of smart phones, traditional IPv6 protocols tend to work less effectively or consume energy at too rapid a rate for these small, self-contained devices or sensors that are often powered by small batteries that are difficult to replace.

A key milestone for the advancement of IP smart object networks is the development of their own routing protocol, that was approved this month by the IETF.  Networks of IP-based smart objects can now be deployed to support a myriad of applications such as smart metering and smart grid networks, and to advance solutions for smart+connected communities. This is no longer a futuristic view thanks to the collaboration of a number of industrial partners and end users, including Cisco.

For a number for years, smart objects such as sensors, actuators or RFID tags have been interconnected using proprietary protocols and architectures, which has lead to closed systems, lack of innovation and limited numbers of deployments. Very early on, Cisco recognized the need for the adoption of an IP-based architecture for smart object networks, also referred to as “The Internet of Things”.

Smart object networks open the door to an endless number of applications that will change our day to day lives in a number of ways: from smart grid networks that optimize power distribution and consumption and incorporate renewable energies and electric vehicles, to home and building automation, healthcare, efficient water management, automotive and industrial automation and smart+connected community applications to name a few.

The Internet of Things requires an architecture that is based on an open standard, and IPv6 is without a doubt the most appropriate protocol. It is worth pointing out that this does not mean that all of these IP smart object networks will be connected to the public Internet: several applications such as smart grid networks, industrial automation will make use of private IP networks, while smart cities may in part be connected to the Internet.

Cisco has been actively working on the promotion of IPv6 for smart object networks by co-founding new alliances and co-specifying new IPv6 protocols with other industrial partners and end-users. For example in Sept 2008, Cisco co-founded the IP for Smart Objects alliance (IPSO: http://www.ipso-alliance.org/), an industry grouping of 57 member organizations with the mission of defining and shaping the Internet of Things.

The IPv6 protocol suite undoubtedly provides the appropriate foundation for IP smart object networks thanks to almost three decades of technology evolution.  Today IPv6 offers advanced security, quality of service, routing, high reliability and advanced management features, as a result providing an unprecedented platform of innovation at very large scale.

We welcome your views and thoughts on how standardization in the new Internet of Things could help to change our daily lives for the better.

In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. Nice Post . but i have a question . what is the readiness of the protocol and also what is the acceptance across the industry (providers/manufacturers) .
    In short how far in time is this likely to be entering our lives ?

    • Thanks for your question. As a matter of fact, RPL has already been tested by more than a dozen of vendors and there are about 15 implementations in the works. You can safely expect to see RPL deployments in a very near future and in support of a number of applications such as smart metering, home automation, smart cities to mention a very few.

  2. Adrian,

    Yep, that satisfies my curiosity. 🙂

    And I see that status now at http://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-ietf-roll-rpl/

    Congrats on getting the document published!


  3. Dan,

    Yes, RPL has been approved for publication as an RFC.

    That means it has been:

    reviewed by the ROLL working group and proposed for publication;

    reviewed by the wider IETF community and received consensus for publication; and

    reviewed by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) and received approval for publication.

    The document is now with the RFC Editor being prepared as an RFC. Publication may take a number of weeks more, but the content will not change from the Internet-Draft you cited.

    Curiosity satisfied?


  4. Interesting article… but I’m curious about what you mean by “was adopted by the IETF”. I see RPL listed as an Internet-Draft at: http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-roll-rpl-19 but I don’t see it out as a formal RFC. Is it further in the publishing process and has received approval to be published as an RFC?

    Just curious….