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Is this the year IoT standards will finally make sense?

Stephen Lawson | Jan. 16, 2017
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.


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