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Ten-year old m2m communications protocol likely to gain heightened interest among wireless application developers

Developed by IBM and Eurotech, MQTT now underlies Facebook Messenger, gaining a high-profile advocate

A little-known protocol originally developed 10 years ago to support machine-to-machine communications is likely to see heightened interest from wireless applications developers now that Facebook has chosen it to support Facebook Messenger, the social media company’s instant messaging application. The protocol, known as MQTT, was developed by IBM and m2m technology developer Eurotech and runs on top of IP, explained Eurotech Group Corporate Marketing Director Robert Andrews at a press and analyst event at Eurotech’s headquarters in Amaro, Italy, Monday.

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Facebook chose the protocol after considering various possibilities, but settled on MQTT because it supports quality of service, continuous session awareness and efficient data transport, said Arlen Nipper, Eurotech chief technology officer. “Facebook validated the design we did and why we did it,” said Nipper.

MQTT could be well suited to support a wide range of wireless apps because it is highly bandwidth-efficient, Nipper said. It was designed to work over connections as narrow as 300-baud dialup and requires only three bytes of overhead to set up a session, compared to about 1000 bytes to set up a TCP/IP session, he said.

The MQTT protocol was designed to support five-nines reliability and has been proposed to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards as an industry standard, Nipper said.

Key protocol attributes

MQTT is an enterprise service bus based on a three-tier architecture that offers application developers a high level of flexibility, Nipper said. With a traditional two-tier architecture, communications flow directly from a publisher to a consumer, which means that if a developer wants to change how an application is consumed, it also has to change the elements that feed into it and vice-versa. A three-tier approach adds middleware between the publisher and the consumer, essentially de-coupling them so that either side can be changed without requiring changes to the other side.

In the example of someone using Facebook Messenger on an iPhone to connect with a friend who is online using Facebook on a desktop computer, Nipper said the iPhone user initially would be the publisher and the friend would be the consumer. But subsequently their roles would switch as they established communications with one another.

Another important capability of MQTT is what IBM and Eurotech call a “last will and testament.” This is a capability pre-programmed into an endpoint to deliver the message that it has failed “to whoever needs to know,” Nipper explained. Using this capability “if a node falls off the network, you know within a certain time,” said Nipper. This approach is also well suited to wireless data applications because it eliminates the ongoing airtime that would be required for alternative solutions based on a polling approach, he said.

Additionally, MQTT supports three QoS levels, another capability that is likely to be in demand by wireless application developers.

With the Facebook MQTT win under its belt, Eurotech hopes to “capitalize on the viral awareness” of the protocol and to persuade more wireless applications developers that it’s something they should be looking at, Nipper said.

With as many as 100 million Facebook Messenger users online at any time, the protocol is getting plenty of real-world verification, he added.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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