IoT standards groups get ready to rumble at CES

Fast-moving AllSeen and OIC both are likely to have certified products at the show

Like prizefighters in intense training, two groups trying to define the Internet of Things are headed for a big showdown in Las Vegas early next year.

Visitors to the International CES in early January should get to see products certified by the AllSeen Alliance and the Open Interconnect Consortium. Each group is promoting its own approach to making connected devices and the applications running on them work together.

AllSeen announced the start of its certification program on Monday, and OIC expects to start signing off on products in the next two months. That's pretty quick as standards go: AllSeen was formed in late 2013 and OIC in mid-2014. It's perfect timing for gear from both camps to go on show at the biggest consumer electronics show in the world.

Having a house full of locks, lights, appliances and thermostats that can communicate with each other and the cloud is critical to getting value from those purchases. For example, a connected door lock is worth a lot more if it can tell a thermostat that you've come home and the heat should go on. Unless all the pieces come from the same company, they need a shared, cross-vendor language for finding and understanding each other.

AllSeen is offering its AllJoyn framework to fill that need. OIC is promoting its own standard and a reference implementation called IoTivity. The first full version of the OIC standard was completed last month.

Apple's HomeKit system, and the Weave platform developed by Nest, now part of Google's Alphabet universe, may also give those standards a run for their money.

The fight for interoperability could make or break IoT in many homes, said IDC analyst Michael Palma. Consumers will adopt devices gradually and expect them all to work together. The first time one doesn't, they may stop bothering.

"The next time they think about adding something, they'll remember the difficulty they had," Palma said.

Broadband providers, the channel for much of this gear, are part of the push for interoperability. If a user can't get one of their devices to work, the service provider may need to send out a technician, at high cost to the carrier.

Eventually, the demand for ease of use will bring competing platforms together, or at least lead to ways of making them talk to each other, Palma said. But he doesn't expect that for at least two years.

"It takes a long time to get to the point where everybody sees the value of working together," he said.

AllJoyn says its certification program is designed to head off IoT frustrations. Tests will verify that a product complies with the software framework and that it will work with other AllJoyn products. Everything that passes the tests will be able to carry an AllJoyn Certified label. One lab in Europe is already approved to run the tests, and labs in the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region will be available by the end of the year, according to AllSeen.

There are already more than 120 million products built with AllJoyn in consumers' hands, according to AllSeen. Most of those should be upgradable to achieve certification, said Philip DesAutels, senior director of IoT at the Alliance.

Along with the certification program, announced at the AllSeen Alliance Summit in Seattle, AllSeen unveiled new AllJoyn security features that will allow for things like users, groups, roles and permissions. These can make access controls more granular so users can do things like allow a child to turn on a lamp but not to change its color. The new features can be integrated with existing systems like Microsoft's Active Directory.

These application-level capabilities are in addition to encryption that is already built in to AllJoyn. They are being reviewed by the members of the Alliance, which should happen in the next few months, and are available to developers to try out, DesAutels said.

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