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OCF, AllSeen, Microsoft and the Future of IoT

by Abel Avram on Mar 08, 2016 |

There are three major groups attempting to standardize a solution for IoT connectivity: OCF, AllSeen Alliance and Thread Group. Will they go on divergent paths or join efforts behind one body that will standardize the communications between all IoT devices?

Recently, the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) changed its name into Open Connectivity Foundation  (OCF) with the addition of Microsoft, Qualcomm and Electrolux as members. OIC was established in 2014 with the purpose of standardizing communication between IoT devices, initially based on the CoAP protocol. OIC was founded by Intel, Broadcom and Samsung. The reference implementation of their specification is called IoTivity, an open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation and licensed under Apache 2.0.

OCF intends to build on OIC’s previous work and take it further building an IoT communication standard that is “agnostic to any wireless or wired technology and will work across technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi Direct, Zigbee, Zwave, Ant+.” OCF inherited IoTivity from OIC along with UPnP, the later comprising a number of protocols allowing networked devices to discover and communicate with each other. UPnP was initially initially developed by the UPnP Forum but was transferred under OIC in January. The intent is to develop UPnP to include IoT devices.

OCF has over 150 members now representing companies involved both in the manufacturing of IoT devices and the creation of software the connects and runs on them. Besides those already mentioned, other notable members are Cisco, GE, IBM, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, etc.

The AllSeen Alliance is yet another consortium founded in 2013 with similar goals as OCF. Their implementation, AllJoyn, currently in use in over 250M products worldwide, is also open sourced under the Linux Foundation and based on a project initially developed by Qualcomm. The AllSeen Alliance numbers over 200 members, including Canon, LG, Philips, Sharp, and SONY. It is interesting to note that while Microsoft, Qualcomm and Electrolux have been Premier Members of AllSeen, they have joined now OCF now.

If that was not enough, Thread Group came into the scene in July 2014, the same time as OIC. Thread has similar goals as the other two, but it has a more limited scope and a simpler approach for creating a mesh network based on Google Nest’s protocol. It also has some 200 members including ARM, Intel, LG, Microsoft, Nest, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

IoT has not taken off yet, and the industry is split over the road to follow. There are three major attempts to standardize the communication protocols between IoT devices, with some companies backing one or another approach, while other companies supporting two or all three of them. Microsoft, as a generalist software developer wants to make sure they have all bases covered. Windows 10 already supports AllJoyn and intends to run AllJoyn over Thread, and now promises to support IoTivity too:

Windows 10 devices will natively interoperate with the new OCF standard, making it easy for Windows to discover, communicate, and orchestrate multiple IoT devices in the home, in business, and beyond. The OCF standards will also be fully compatible with the 200 million Windows 10 devices that are “designed for AllSeen” today.

We talked to Ryan Day, Sr. Communications Manager at Microsoft, about this division in the industry and the challenges it raises. While currently supporting all three groups, Microsoft believes that one standardization body would be better and hopes that the industry will reach consensus at some point:

Microsoft believes that in the future, all devices, should just work together. The OCF will create a set of open specifications and protocols to enable devices from a variety of manufactures to securely and seamlessly interact with one another. Regardless of the manufacturer, operating system, chipset or transport – devices that adhere to the OCF specifications will simply work together. Microsoft has helped lead the formation of the OCF because we believe deeply in its vision and the potential an open standard can deliver. Windows 10 devices will natively interoperate with the new OCF standard, making it easy for Windows to discover, communicate, and orchestrate multiple IoT devices in the home, in business, and beyond.

While many of the companies involved in these groups are simply spectators watching IoT developments to make sure they are not caught off-guard, some of them have invested time, money and effort in developing their respective standards and associated products. It remains to be seen if the industry will decide to go on divergent paths or choose to rally under one standardization body. In the end, what it matters for users is that all devices work effortlessly and seamlessly with one another, and preferably without a bridge that speaks multiple protocols between them. 

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