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A world with more IoT standards bodies than IoT standards

As a vendor in the Internet of Things, we recently decided to research and evaluate whether to join a standards committee to begin influencing how tomorrow’s IoT standards get defined. What an eye-opener. I found at least 20 such initiatives focusing on connecting the Internet of Things together, and I broke them down into four categories:

  1. Open connectors
  2. Standards bodies
  3. Consortia
  4. Companies with industry muscle

Examples of the open connectors include IFTTT (If This Then That) and Zapier, both of whom are offering simple ways to connect disparate apps and services via small scripts or (in the case of IFTTT) “recipes.” The example I always give to explain IFTTT is that the driver of a connected car can easily program an app on the dashboard of the vehicle to automatically take an action, like “If I am driving towards home and if I am 300 yards from home, then turn my alarm system off, and it it’s less than 15 degrees Celsius outside, then turn up my heating.” IFTTT and the other open connectors are at the application level and user level, so there’s plenty of opportunity for them to live alongside the next two types: the standards bodies and the consortia of industry heavyweights.

It’s actually quite hard to figure out exactly which organizations are true IoT standards bodies and which are industry groups. Some are consortia trying to set IoT standards, others claim they are standards bodies, but in effect they are committees made up of industry heavyweights. For each of them below, I looked to see whether Cisco was involved for reasons I will explain afterwards:

  • IPSO Alliance: “Defining identity and privacy for the next generation of smart objects.” IPSO is an open, informal and thought-leading association of like-minded organizations that promote the value of using the Internet Protocol for the networking of smart objects. (Cisco is a contributor.)
  • AllSeen Alliance: “A cross-industry consortium dedicated to enabling the interoperability of billions of devices, services and apps that comprise the Internet of Things.” Qualcomm kicked this off as AllJoyn and then handed the source code to the Linux Foundation, from where the AllSeen Alliance was born. (Cisco is a community member.)
  • The Industrial Internet Consortium: “The open membership, international not-for-profit consortium that is setting the architectural framework and direction for the Industrial Internet.” It was founded by AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel in March 2014, with a mission to coordinate vast ecosystem initiatives to connect and integrate objects with people, processes and data using common architectures, interoperability and open standards. (Cisco is a founding member.)
  • oneM2M: “The global standards initiative for Machine to Machine Communications and the Internet of Things.” Its purpose and goal is to develop technical specifications which address the need for a common M2M Service Layer that can be readily embedded within various hardware and software, and relied upon to connect the myriad of devices in the field with M2M application servers worldwide. (Cisco is a member.)
  • FiWare: “An independent open community whose members are committed to building an open sustainable ecosystem around public, royalty-free and implementation-driven software platform standards that will ease the development of new smart applications in multiple sectors.” (Cisco does NOT appear to be a member.)
  • OpenDaylight IoDM: OpenDaylight (ODL) is a modular open software defined networking (SDN) platform for networks large and small, and ODL has an initiative called IoTDM (where DM stands for data management) which aims to deliver open source IoT middleware solutions based on oneM2M over ODL. (Cisco appears to be driving IoTDM.)
  • OpenFog: Yes, you read it correctly, we have OpenDaylight and now OpenFog. “A public-private ecosystem formed to accelerate the adoption of fog computing in order to solve the bandwidth, latency and communications challenges associated with IoT.” Its work is centered around creating a framework for efficient and reliable networks combined with identifiable, secure and privacy-friendly information flows between clouds, endpoints and services based on open standard technologies. (Cisco is a founding member.)
  • Open Connectivity Foundation: “The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) is creating a specification and sponsoring an open source project to unlock the massive opportunity in the IoT market, accelerate industry innovation, and help developers and companies create solutions that map to a single open specification.” OCF will help ensure secure interoperability for consumers, businesses and industries. (Cisco is a member and is on the board.)
  • Thread Group: “It’s hard to get devices to talk to one another. And once they do, the connection is often spotty and power hungry. Thread changes all that. It’s a mesh network designed to securely and reliably connect hundreds of products around the home — without blowing through battery life.” Thread has a couple of hundred members in the connected home space. (Cisco is NOT affiliated with Thread.)
  • Hypercat: “A consortium and standard to drive secure and interoperable IoT for industry and cities.” The Hypercat specification allows Internet of Things clients to discover information about IoT assets over the Web. With Hypercat, developers can write applications that will work across many servers, breaking down the walls between vertical silos. (Cisco is on the advisory board.)

As is typical with a new and hot sector like IoT, there’s an incredible amount of jostling for position among the giants and the start-ups alike; there are many competing “standards” (and therefore by definition none of them are actually IoT standards), and most importantly the fact that Cisco is involved in most of them tells us that the big guys are hedging their bets because they aren’t sure which ones will emerge as winners and which ones will die on the vine.

My next article will look at whether these IoT standards bodies will even be relevant in a world where Google (Brillo and Weave), Apple (HomeKit), Samsung (SmartThings), Amazon (Alexa) and Microsoft (Windows 10 IoT editions) are all bringing out their own IoT solutions. Will one of them become the de-facto IoT standard just as Google’s Android became the de-facto open mobile OS?

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