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What if all the ‘things’ in the Internet of Things spoke the same language?

An Internet of Things simulation.
zzoplanet / 123RF Stock Photo
Imagine if you had to choose banks, grocery stores, and doctors in your city based on the languages they recognized. That restriction would be more than irksome. You might miss out on wonderful new stores or be unable to use a medical specialist who was the only one in town who could help with a specific problem. Avoiding a similar troublesome limitation is the force behind a big push for a standard connectivity language for the Internet of Things.

The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), a new organization formed last year with some, but not all, of the biggest IoT players, is making progress with a standard communications platform, Fast Company reported. With all the connectivity and control devices, hubs, platforms, and interfaces for smart homes alone, never mind industrial, transportation, shipping, and other IoT applications, the need for more open connectivity is increasingly apparent. If you are attracted by the feature set in a specific outdoor security camera, why should you have to make sure it can “talk” to your home thermostat and your new car’s geo-fencing alert system?

During the past year, two large standards groups, the Open Interconnect Consortium that counted Intel and Samsung among its members, and the AllSeen Alliance, which included Qualcomm, Microsoft, LG, and Sony, merged to form the OCF. Throughout 2016 work on a single communications platform proceeded. Fast Company reported that because of the “unity” of the two big groups and the progress that has been made, more than 300 companies have joined the OCF.

The current OCF president, Matt Perry, whose day job is as a Microsoft program manager, said, “I think we’ve eliminated one of the potential hurdles for other companies to consider joining and participating.”

All the big names aren’t on board, however. Apple and Google are both holdouts, as is Zigbee, which just announced a new smart home language. The OCF hopes the others will join, but is also betting that in the long game, open standards will bring everyone into the fold.

Looking outside the smart home to other IoT areas including the automotive industry and other industrial areas, the OCF’s goals for the year include firming up the certification process and getting more certified products on the market. “A standard’s just a standard. When it really gets interesting is when you have real products that are interoperating together, and that makes it more compelling for other companies to join,” said Perry.

Intel marketing manager Kimberly Lewis told Fast Company there’s a lot of interest in moving the certification process and even a certification logo along. “Everyone’s anxious to make money, so it’s like, ‘When are we going to be done?'” said Lewis. “That’s a good problem to have, that people want to start putting this in their products.”

All this talk about a standard communication framework doesn’t mean that Alexa, Google Home, Siri, and Cortana won’t have anything to talk to. On the contrary, those interfaces would be able to access IoT devices by addressing the standard language. What matters is standardization on a device, level. That means, using an example Fast Company cited from Intel Internet of Things product line director Gary Martz, you wouldn’t need to even wonder if a smart door lock could be controlled by Alexa or Siri or Google Home. A “door lock” as a concept would be a common concept for all languages.

“The players that recognize this are going to do very well,” Martz told Fast Company. “[Compatibility] is not the space that we need to differentiate our products on,” he added. “This is the space where we all need to agree on interoperability, so we can all provide features above the standards.”

Updated 1/18/2107 by Bruce Brown to remove a mistaken statement that the AllSeen Alliance had certified 26 products that use the OCF communications framework, which is in fact still in development.

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