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MWC 2016: Intel and Qualcomm in rare truce over IoT protocols

Microsoft and Qualcomm have joined the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), prompting the device connectivity body to relaunch as the Open Connectivity Forum (OCF). The move sees Qualcomm, the founder of the rival AllJoyn project, now an open source endeavor, endorsing the Intel-inspired OIC’s IoTivity standard, in what is likely to be the start of further consolidation.

Other leading members come from many parts of the IoT value chain, from chips to appliance – they include Arris, CableLabs, Cisco, Electrolux, GE Digital and Samsung. The aim is to develop a single Apache-based open source code base which will not dictate connectivity protocols, but will provide common functionality above that layer.

Despite the excitement at just the idea of a unified platform for device discovery and connectivity, in the fragmented world of the Internet of Things, neither body would confirm any plans or discussions around full convergence at the protocol layer.

However, there were clear hints. Imad Sousou, general manager of Intel’s Open Source Technology Center, wrote in a blog post: “I am thrilled we are taking this important step, with the organizations recognizing the challenge is too important to continue down different paths. Working separately, we would have spent valuable time building consensus—now, we can go forward much faster.”

In a separate blog post entitled ‘fragmentation is the enemy of the Internet of Things’, Qualcomm said it remained a member of the AllSeen Alliance and was working with both organizations to help establish a single open standard for IoT.

The IOC has been pushing its spec, and the accompanying IoTivity open source implementation, as a way of connecting devices in local proximity to each other, and to cloud platforms. Its main rival, the AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn protocol, performs a similar function, and several AllSeen members, including AllJoyn inventor and chief vendor Qualcomm, have signed up for the new OCF.

The main difference between the two approaches is that AllSeen needs to use a bridging layer to access the open Internet, while IoTivity calls itself a cloud-native standard – with the inference that AllJoyn is not. It’s a fair assertion, although there are various Internet bridging stacks and apps that are available to AllJoyn adopters.

Despite such differences, there have been ongoing rumbles that at some point the two standards initiatives would merge their efforts, although the Linux Foundation (which houses both of the projects) has recently said that they remain separate entities, and will continue to be so.

Similarly, the final architectures of the emerging smart home will likely center around a gateway device that contains enough radios to be able to connect to the majority of home devices, regardless of protocols, and enough processing power to store and manage the separate stacks. However, managing multiple stacks is not the most efficient way forward, so convergence remains a distinct possibility.

Speaking to Michael Richmond, the executive director of the OCF, at MWC, we were told that the OIC roadmap hadn’t changed – and that the group is still looking at expanding out of its smart home and building core interests, with automotive and medical namedropped as useful new areas. The OCF’s standard is aiming to be a cross-industry horizontal solution that is vertically agnostic.

That aim will be helped by the addition of Microsoft, whose support positions the OCF as an overarching standards body rather than something specific to the home. “We have helped lead the formation of the OCF because we believe deeply in its vision and the potential an open standard can deliver,” said the company’s statement. “Despite the opportunity and promise of the IoT to connect devices in the home or in businesses, competition between various open standards and closed company protocols has slowed adoption and innovation.”

Windows 10 already includes the AllJoyn stack in some 200m devices and Microsoft says the OS will now natively support the new OCF standard. This will help position W10 to run as the central OS to configure and coordinate IoT deployments – in homes, but especially in the SMB and enterprise space where Microsoft has a strong power base still.

Microsoft is also keen on developing different versions of Windows 10 to suit different usage needs, so that different device classes can still tie into its Windows ecosystem. Similarly, its Azure cloud computing platform is being slanted to accommodate IoT applications and devices, and Microsoft is promising that its Windows devices will shortly contain all the APIs needed to integrate with OCF devices.

As for Qualcomm, Michael Wallace, president of the connected experiences division, said: “Qualcomm has pursued the goal of open interoperability from the beginning. We helped develop the AllJoyn framework to drive this goal, and now we look forward to collaborating with leading IoT-focused companies to form the OCF for precisely the same reason. We look forward to achieving the IoT vision we all share.”

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