By Megan Bozman
By the simplest definition IoT things are internet-connected devices. Connectivity is a defining trait. And yet, those ‘things’ are largely not connected to one another. Sure, we’ve all read the utopian visions of our connected car automatically informing our connected home that we’re running late and accordingly changing the time the temperate rises, and the stove turns on to cook dinner. But when the car, stove, and thermostat all speak different languages, this is simply impossible.
Just last week, Zigbee positioned its own “dotdot” language as the solution to this problem. The Zigbee alliance wasn’t the only organization that recognized the problem and sought to get in front of it. Of course, this just leads to numerous “universal” languages, which gets us back in the same place with a lack of communication…
Currently, device makers must choose between disparate frameworks such as Apple's HomeKit, Samsung's SmartThings, Works with Nest, Android's Things, and Amazon's Alexa. Users are faced with determining whether the products they want are compatible with the system they bought into.
NEW New Universal Language of the Internet of Things: OCF
Enter The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), the industry body that's building an Internet of Things standard. OCF is creating a specification and sponsoring an open source project to enable IoT communication. “OCF will help ensure secure interoperability for consumers, business, and industry.”
The firms leading OCF include Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, LG, and Sony, which were all previously members of either The Open Interconnect Consortium or the AllSeen Alliance. Each group was developing its own framework, but merged to found the OCF, which now has more than 300 members.
At CES this month, OCF demonstrated how products might work together. Writing for Fast Company, Jared Newman described, “A living room section showed light bulbs, a TV, an air conditioner, and a robot vacuum cleaner all turning on and off from a single command on a Windows PC. In the kitchen section, the touch screen on a connected fridge triggered the room's lighting, air purifier, air conditioner, and coffee maker.”
OCF states that this alliance is working towards the unified IoT standard that the industry has been asking for. Current devices running on either the AllJoyn or IoTivity solutions will be interoperable and backward-compatible.
Premature Optimism for a Universal IoT Language?
Mr. Newman continues “Although competition among standards is no longer an obstacle, the OCF still has plenty of competition from existing Internet of Things platforms. Some of the biggest companies in tech, including Apple and Google, aren't participating, nor is smart home mainstay ZigBee, which used CES to announce its own common language for smart homes. Device makers must still make tough decisions about which of these platforms to support.”
Strangely, there isn’t a lot being said about these conflicts, despite such contradictory headlines. Sure, you can find news coverage about dotdot and OCF, but even tweets pointing out the oxymoron that is multiple ‘universal’ languages are few and far between. Although one InfoWorld article stated, “But there are still too many choices, for both developers and consumers, to make IoT simple and easy, industry analysts say.” The tremendous array of options has kept consumer choices fragmented, too, which is one issue holding back smart homes, according to Avi Greengart at Current Analysis.
The Need for IoT Interoperability
While there is dissent over which language will become the universal language of the IoT, there does seem to be widespread agreement on the need for one. Gary Martz, Intel's product line director for Internet of Things communications frameworks stated, “[Compatibility] is not the space that we need to differentiate our products on. This is the space where we all need to agree on interoperability, so we can all provide features above the standards.”