Does One Fewer IoT Standards Equal One Step Closer to Interoperability?

On Monday, two groups that have spent the past few years developing competing open-source communication standards for Internet of Things devices announced that they will merge. But there is still plenty of reconciliation to do before consumers can enjoy interoperable IoT devices—if they ever do.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 12, 2016

This week opened with big news in the Internet of Things standards community: The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and the AllSeen Alliance, two groups that have been developing separate open-source frameworks for standardizing the means by which IoT products communicate with each other and connect to networks, have merged.

The two organizations' boards have approved a merger under the OCF name and bylaws, which effectively means that AllSeen Alliance is being made part of the OCF. As part of the merger, the two groups will create a unified version of their frameworks—OCF's IoTivity framework, and AllSeen Alliance's AllJoyn framework—both of which use open standards designed to enable connected devices and applications to communicate with each other through a common language, regardless of what operating system or networking protocol they each use.

The goal is that by integrating the framework software into the firmware running in two connected devices, they could interoperate—so that, for example, a motion sensor made by company A could tell the light bulb made by company B to turn on when it senses motion—and could do so locally, without relying on an internet connection. Such framework-compliant devices would communicate either directly with each other, via common radios, or via gateways containing multiple radios.

The AllSeen Alliance has arguably gotten more done than the OCF—there are 25 AllSeen certified products on the market—while the OCF's framework is younger and it only last week announced that it has opened its first certification labs.

Qualcomm and Intel have been the driving forces behind the AllSeen Alliance and OCF, respectively, and the two groups bring with them member bases of around 200 companies each—though there is a good amount of overlap between those member lists. Through the merger, the OCF board of directors now includes representatives from AB Electrolux, CableLabs, Canon, Cisco Systems, GE Digital, Haier, Intel, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics and Technicolor SA.

But the news of the two groups merging is not a total surprise, since Qualcomm became a member of the OCF back in February, at which time it said it planned to contribute to both frameworks. (Microsoft and Electrolux also joined the OCF at that time, which coincided with the renaming of the Open Interconnect Foundation to the OCF.)

Journalist Stacey Higginbotham, who claims to have sources close to the merger, characterizes it as more of a disbanding of the AllSeen Alliance. She views this as a loss for consumers because the AllJoyn framework is more mature than the OCF's IoTivity. Until IoTivity supports backward compatibility to AllJoyn, she says, the IoT community will still be without a blueprint for industry-wide interoperability.

And while progress toward interoperability is slow, new smart-home platforms are emerging at a steady pace. So while on the one hand, two prominent open-source interoperability platform providers have joined forces, on the other, we've got an increasingly crowded marketplace for personal-assistant products for smart-home applications that come with their own, siloed, communications platforms. There's Amazon's Echo device with Alexa, and now Google has introduced a competing product called Home, which uses Google's Weave communications protocol (built on Google's Brillo operating system for the IoT), and now there are rumors that Apple may soon release a personal-assistant product of its own, to showcase its Home interface for iOS10.

Until and unless Apple, Amazon and Google decide to join the OFC or in some other way pledge to make their products interoperable with other smart-home products in the market, a merger between the AllSeen Alliance and the OCF does not do much, on its own, to stem the issues around product interoperability in consumer-facing IoT products.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of IoT Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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