A few brave souls predict internet of things 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 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 (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.
, 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 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.”
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 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.
Another low-power, wide-area networking standard, LoRa, is gaining momentum with more national rollouts, Castonguay said. Comcast announced in October that it’s considering a nationwide LoRa network to serve enterprises. Some carriers in other countries already use the technology. Ingenu, a U.S. company with its own type of low-power network, is also making gains around the world, he said.
Wherever IoT does reach mass adoption, it will be thanks to one or two technologies—open or not—that have somehow caught on with users. “Sometimes ubiquity is the most important part of a standard,” Greengart said.