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The IoT: Next Up, A Battle Over Standards

Posted By David Brousell, July 15, 2014 at 8:06 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

The high tech industry is at it again.

It seems that whenever a market trend occurs that holds the potential of significant growth, would-be players rush to try to define and establish “standards” that will enable the trend to flourish, and, in the process, enable the players to benefit too.

But the great thing about standards, a wizened critic once said, is that there are so many of them.

Today, the latest trend undergoing a standards frenzy is the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), envisioned as a network of smart, connected products, systems, and various physical objects that produces and exchanges data about those things. Proponents are so excited about the projected economic value of IoT they can hardly contain themselves. One of the most oft-cited projections is from a recent McKinsey report which says the IoT has the potential to create as much as $6.2 trillion in economic value by 2025.

With that kind of value to be had, it is not surprising that high tech vendors – the companies that make and supply the hardware, software, and communications capabilities to power the IoT – are attempting to define the technical rules of the IoT road. But a competition to create those rules is already underway, and one that may end up confusing manufacturers looking to get aboard the IoT bandwagon.

Earlier this month, a group of six high vendors – Atmel, Dell, Broadcom, Samsung, Intel, and Wind River – formed the Open Interconnect Consortium, whose stated mission is to define “a common communications framework based on industry standard technologies to wirelessly connect and intelligently manage the flow of information among personal computing and emerging IoT devices …”

The formation of the OIC was apparently in reaction to the creation last December of the AllSeen Alliance, a group now with 51 members including Microsoft, Qualcomm, Cisco Systems, Sharp, Panasonic, and others. Described as a Linux Foundation collaborative project, AllSeen’s mission is to “enable widespread adoption and help accelerate the development and evolution of an interoperable peer connectivity and communications framework” based on an open source technology developed by Qualcomm called AllJoyn.

OIC members reportedly do not like the idea of having to use AllJoyn. In announcing its formation, the OIC said it will develop an open source standard that will encompass Android, iOS, Windows, Linux, Tizen, and other systems.

But the OIC and the AllSeen Alliance are only two of the organizations advancing on to what is becoming a well-populated field of groups looking to play a role in defining rules of the IoT road. Here are a few more:

  • Yesterday, Google’s Nest Labs unit along with six other companies announced the formation of the Thread Group, which is focused on developing standards to connect and control products in the home. The group says it wants ‘to build a technology that uses and combines the best of what’s out there and create a networking protocol that can help the Internet of the Things realize its potential for years to come.” Founding members of the Thread Group include Samsung, ARM Holdings, Freescale Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, Big Ass Fans and lock maker Yale.  http://threadgroup.org/Home.aspx
  • The Industrial Internet Consortium, founded earlier this year by AT&T, Cisco, GE, Intel, and IBM, is part of the Object Management Group, a non-profit trade association. The IIC’s mission is to “break down the barriers of technology silos to support better access to big data with improved integration of the physical and digital worlds to unlock business value.” The IIC says its role is to “influence the global standards development process” but it acknowledges that it faces the challenge of ensuring “that these efforts come together into a cohesive whole.”   http://www.iiconsortium.org/
  • The Global Standards Initiative on Internet of Things is a unit of the International Telecommunications Union. Its mission is to promote a unified approach within the ITU for the development of technical standards that will enable IoT on a global scale. The GSI also says it intends to work in collaboration with other standards organizations.  http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/gsi/iot/Pages/default.aspx
  • The IEEE Standards Association has a working group, designated P2413, that is also focusing on IoT architecture. The working group has 18 members including, Cisco, Emerson, GE, Oracle, Siemens, and others. http://standards.ieee.org/innovate/iot/
  • In March of this year, the European Commission and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute called for a workshop “to pinpoint and discuss” the requirements and policy issues” associated with machine-to-machine and IoT technology. The first workshop was held earlier this month in France.
  • The European Research Cluster on the Internet of Things. The Cluster’s mission is to bring together EU-funded projects to define a “common vision and the IoT technology and development research challenge” in Europe.  http://www.internet-of-things-research.eu/about_ierc.htm

You can make a pretty safe bet that the high tech industry, as well as standards organizations, are just getting warmed up when it comes to influencing the IoT trend. No doubt we will see more groups and associations emerge in the days ahead. A major challenge for all of them will be to find ways to work together effectively and not confuse or constrain the market. Most will work diligently at defining and developing specifications and standards, but as happened in earlier tech eras, the market will begin to rationalize and some will fade away.

But what is also likely to happen is that market power will take over, and tech vendors with the greatest clout will set the “standards” of the IoT. This is the nature of markets. In the 1980s, for example, a number of organizations attempted to create a standard version of the UNIX operating system for personal and commercial computing, but Microsoft, with its dominant market position, eventually set the actual standard.

Anyone remember the Open Software Foundation?

Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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