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.
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