Is this the year IoT standards will finally make sense?

Some are starting to come together, but it looks like the battles will go on for a few more years

A few brave souls predict IoT standards will start to gel this year, but making all those connected things work together still looks like a long shot.

Two years ago, some industry analysts cautiously suggested that a vast array of IoT standards would merge into just a few beginning in 2017.

If the internet of things in late 2014 was a cacophony of discordant musicians tuning up, it’s now reached the point where a few virtuosos are playing the same tune. But there’s still a lot of sheet music getting passed around.

Two of the biggest rivals in IoT did find harmony last year. The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) was formed out of the AllSeen Alliance -- which used the Qualcomm-developed AllJoyn -- and the Intel-backed Open Interconnect Consortium. Previously, each group had been promoting its own way for devices to discover and learn about each other.

In another promising sign, the IEEE p2413 standard, which will provide a unified approach to defining IoT architectures, may be finished this year, according to Oleg Logvinov, chairman of the p2413 working group.

The standard is meant to span all industries plus consumer devices. It wouldn’t replace existing data formats but would reduce the amount of effort required to share data among them.

Using what's already finished

Some players are offering established technologies as common layers for interoperability. Last week at CES, the ZigBee Alliance announced Dotdot, which it calls a universal language for IoT.

It’s an open application layer that handles the same kinds of things as OCF, but it’s based on the upper-layer protocol already implemented in many devices that use the ZigBee wireless network. Dotdot can already work with Thread networks.

Sigma Designs, the main company behind Z-Wave networks, has released the Z-Wave interoperability layer to help developers integrate those networks with applications and services using cloud-based platforms like HomeKit.

But there are still too many choices, for both developers and consumers, to make IoT simple and easy, industry analysts say. That will probably still be true 12 months from now, and maybe for two or three more years, they said.

"I don't think we've gotten to the point where consolidation has made the lives of solution providers and application developers much easier,” Machina Research analyst Andy Castonguay said. “You still have a tremendous array of options out there."

That’s kept consumer choices fragmented, too, which is one issue holding back smart homes, Avi Greengart at Current Analysis said. Most consumers won’t buy IoT gear until they see clear value, ease of installation, and ease of interoperability, he said.

“Every major computing and silicon vendor is competing in this space, and there hasn’t been a consolidation around winners just yet. The market is kind of a mess right now,” Greengart said.

Enter the lawyers

Why is it so hard to agree on standards? "They're big companies, and they move slowly," said Mike Krell of Moor Insights and Strategy. Standards tend to raise intellectual property issues that bring armies of lawyers into the picture.

Even breakthroughs in standards diplomacy aren't guarantees. Just because an impressive list of vendors, including Microsoft, Samsung, Cisco Systems, GE Digital, and Haier belong to OCF, that doesn’t mean they’ll all adopt the organization’s standard across all their products, Krell said. It’s common for big vendors to join many industry groups just to engage with and influence trends.

There’s too much at stake in a potentially huge market for major companies to give up the chance to dominate home IoT, Greengart said.

“I’m highly skeptical that 'co-opetition' in this regard will prevail over competition. And given than nobody knows what layer of the stack is going to be the most valuable one, everyone is fighting for their own,” he said.

The common thread that will make smart homes work may turn out to be a system from one vendor, like Apple’s HomeKit, Greengart said. Apple is as well-positioned as any company to make that happen. But even though many manufacturers at last week’s CES show introduced products that use HomeKit, they didn’t play up that capability much, he said.

Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based AI platform that made a splash at CES, at least provides a single user interface, though Greengart said it’s not really a full IoT platform like HomeKit -- yet.

There's even more work to do

Even if part of the technology stack is standardized and life gets easier for developers and buyers, there are other hurdles to mass adoption of home IoT.

Security, one of consumers’ biggest worries, has to be addressed across the board instead of one component at a time, as it is now, Machina’s Castonguay said.

“We still are waiting for the market to develop an approach that would allow for a full, end-to-end, consistently updated and audited security approach,” he said.

Then there’s the issue of how consumers will choose to buy IoT products. While most smart homes are do-it-yourself affairs today, carriers and cable companies may become the main sales channel, Krell said. But it’s still too soon to say.

Some good news

While things may be murky at home, there are glimmers of hope in another part of the internet of things.

Last year, the 3GPP, which sets cellular standards, settled on two specifications for low-power versions of LTE. Those technologies, called Category M1 and Category NB1, will lead carriers to roll out specialized IoT services, Castonguay said.

Both of the new technologies are slower than regular mobile data service but use less energy, so they’re compatible with small, battery-powered connected objects like sensors. As part of the LTE standard, these systems are relatively easy and economical upgrades to current networks.

Another low-power, wide-area networking standard, LoRa, is gaining momentum with more national rollouts, Castonguay said.

Comcast announced in October that it’s considering a nationwide LoRa network to serve enterprises. Some carriers in other countries already use the technology. Ingenu, a U.S. company with its own type of low-power network, is also making gains around the world, he said.

Wherever IoT does reach mass adoption, it will be thanks to one or two technologies -- open or not -- that have somehow caught on with users. “Sometimes ubiquity is the most important part of a standard,” Greengart said.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?