Intel-backed OIC advances in fast-moving IoT standards race

Open-source software for implementing its standard is out as a preview and products are expected to ship this year

Internet of Things industry groups are in high gear, driving toward standards they hope will define how connected devices work together for years to come.

On Wednesday, an open-source project sponsored by the Open Interconnect Consortium released a preview of IoTivity, a software framework for implementing OIC's emerging IoT standard. The move came just a week after the AllSeen Alliance introduced a new software framework of its own, which was designed for remote control of multiple AllJoyn-based devices.

There are half a dozen or more organizations crafting specifications for IoT or trying to reconcile ones developed by other groups.

The outcome will determine whose technology is used to link objects as diverse as wearables, home appliances, parking meters and industrial equipment.

OIC, which includes Intel and Samsung Electronics, and AllSeen, backed by Qualcomm, Cisco and others, are shaping up as the groups most likely to have a showdown. As such, they may be working hardest of all.

"It is really down to the wire for us here," OIC board member and Intel executive Imad Sousou said late last year. "We're really working like crazy to make things available by the end of the year."

The culmination of those efforts was the IoTivity open-source code released on Wednesday.

The preview release is now generally available. The first full release -- IoTivity 1.0 -- and the OIC standard should be out by the middle of this year, said Mark Skarpness, chair of the IoTivity Steering Group. Products based on the technology are likely to hit the market later this year, he said. Skarpness is also director of embedded software in Intel's Open Source Technology Center.

Though it seems too soon to be pushing out specifications and code, given that the industry isn't expected to settle on standards until next year or later, this may be the best time to capture the hearts and minds of product developers. The International CES show last week in Las Vegas was rife with emerging (and some half-baked) IoT devices, especially for smart homes. Those that make it to market will eventually need to lock into some platform for working with other connected products.

The OIC is developing its own standard for IoT connectivity but turned to the Linux Foundation to organize the project that is developing IoTivity. That project is open to anyone who wants to participate, whether they belong to OIC or not.

Vendors will use IoTivity as a reference implementation of the OIC standard. They can add their own components on top of it or build their own implementation of the OIC standard from scratch.

OIC expects adoption of its standard to begin in consumer electronics and expand over time to industrial, medical and other applications. For basic products such as light switches and bulbs, OIC-compliant products should work together right out of the box, Skarpness said.

As products come out for widely diverse fields, they should be able to recognize each other at a basic level but not necessarily interact in complex ways, Skarpness said. If they need to, for situations such as medical devices used in a home, they can. Many uses of different OIC-compliant products will fit into overarching services, he said.

IoTivity is one of the three main components of the OIC's approach, the other two being the underlying standard and a product certification program. It's important to have both a standard and reference implementation, Skarpness said: The standard provides a common foundation that ensures all OIC-compliant products can work together at some level, while IoTivity gives developers a place to start when implementing that standard.

"If you don't have a reference implementation, it takes forever for people to build products," Skarpness said. "And if you don't have a standard, then really all you have is the reference, and whether you like it or not, you have to use it, because that's the only means of knowing you're going to be interoperable."

Having both sets OIC apart from AllSeen, which doesn't have a standard, Skarpness said. OIC is also using licenses that define how patents on the technology are to be handled, something AllSeen doesn't do, he said. OIC's standard will be licensed under RAND-Z terms (reasonable and non-discriminatory, with zero royalties), and the Apache license for IoTivity includes licenses for code that's gone into the software from any vendor.

AllSeen products are based on the AllJoyn software framework. The company said its approach is different from OIC's but similar to what other successful technologies have been based on.

"Working code describes what you need," said Philip DesAutels, senior director of IoT for the AllSeen Alliance. "The quickest way to get lots of products into the market is to provide a core open-source framework that everyone uses." As for patent licensing, AllSeen has an intellectual property policy that spells out those terms and expects to announce an improved version of it early this year, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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