Competing Standards and the Internet of Things (IoT)

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“The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.”

-Andrew S. Tanenbaum (Computer Networks: 2nd Edition ©1988)

 

As a connoisseur of fine sarcastic wit, this specimen has long been a favorite of mine and it’s every bit as true today (probably more so) as it was over 25 years ago. Today, (July 15th as I sit down to write this) Samsung announced its founding membership in the Thread Group, with other notable members including Google-owned Nest Labs, semiconductor powerhouses ARM, Silicon Labs and Freescale and industrial/commercial fan manufacturer Big Ass Fans (whom I probably wouldn’t have mentioned if they didn’t have one of my favorite company names.

 

Big Ass Fan

 

This announcement comes a mere week after Samsung announced its membership in the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) whose prominent member names include Intel®, Dell, Broadcom and Wind River.

Both of these groups are late-comers, following the formation of Allseen Alliance in December 2013, backed by Qualcomm, Microsoft, Panasonic, LG and Cisco, among many others.

So we have three distinct groups composed of a multitude of companies providing both complimentary and fiercely competitive products, all promising that they have the best ideas in how to use the nearly infinite IP addresses made possible with IPv6 combined with IEEE 802.15 standards to create WPAN (wireless personal area network) devices capable of interacting with LAN (local area network) and WAN (wide area network) connected devices to create the IoT (Internet of Things).

The things that could potentially qualify as “Things” in the “Internet of Things” are vast, but mostly consist of sensors and controllers. I’ve more than once heard the example of a potential smart refrigerator, capable of telling me when I need to buy a dozen eggs or a pound of butter. I have three words for that. Do not want. Classic solution in need of a problem, in my opinion.

 Nest Thermo

However, consider Nest Labs, their first product being a smart, internet-connected (via Wifi and ZigBee, a PAN standard that falls under the 802.15 specification, as Bluetooth® does) thermostat, which, as you’re probably aware is a combination of a temperature sensor (thermometer) and an HVAC control system. It can be a component of home, commercial or industrial facility automation. Big whoop, you say. Let’s keep the focus narrow and look at some potential benefits in home automation.

For simplicity, let’s say you live alone and most of the time, you carry an internet-connected computer on your person. A decade ago the idea was, if not considered preposterous, likely to be met with skepticism. Today it’s the norm rather than the exception. Imagine your smartphone connects to your home thermostat and reports location-based data. Your thermostat knows you didn’t leave the house on Monday even though it has no idea what Labor Day is, so it doesn’t knock your AC down to the 80° you normally have it set to on workdays. When it recognizes you’re 300 miles away? Minimum allowed settings for HVAC, until you reach 50 miles and it defaults to the basic rules you’ve created.

It’s just a single example that could exist among countless others, but taking the same example, let’s add in a spouse or partner you live with. The rules for controlling the HVAC will get a bit more complex by necessity, and that’s okay. But if one of you has to give up your personal device choice to be compatible with your Google thermostat, that’s a problem. Now consider a family. You have a potential for even more device conflict, so the promise of IoT comes crashing down with the tragedy of a “Basket of Remotes.”

Remotes

As pointed out in the article, the Basket of Remotes problem is one that faces consumers more than industry, but without a true, single device communication standard, even the gas refinery ceases to exist as part of the Internet of Things and becomes an Intranet of Things. This is why standards conflicts are inherently bad, in my opinion. Not to mention, a significant number of users will wind up with the Betamax or HD DVD of tomorrow.

All of this will get sorted out in the long run, but having three major consortiums, each consisting of their own industry giants with conflicting motives and drawing lines in the sand at this early stage of the game is at least a bit disconcerting. What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic or is this type of thing inevitable?

 

About the Author:

Jason Culliton has been with L-Tron since 2008, specializing in patrol vehicle equipment, barcode scanners, and printers. He brings over 14 years of experience in the data collection industry.