After years of struggling to make critical connections among devices, the internet of things might be about to turn a corner—thanks to organizations building standards that speak multiple computing languages.
The potential of connected devices to transform everyday life has been growing by leaps and bounds, but their ability to actually connect has been hampered by a stubborn challenge: a lack of consistent technical standards.
The problem has been the sheer number of incompatible approaches to the internet of things (IoT). Groups such as the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Zigbee Alliance, and others have built a variety of standards that haven’t always talked to one another.
That lack of communication has started to shift in favor of more interoperability. One example is Thread, a standard born from the popular thermostat product Nest that networks connected devices together. As The Register recently noted, the Thread Group—the organization behind Thread that counts Google, Apple, and Samsung among its members—took steps to open-source its device-networking protocol and complement other offerings, such as OCF’s application layer standards.
Thread takes advantage of many other existing standards—including Bluetooth Low Energy, which wasn’t initially compatible with Thread but has been added in an effort to cater to more devices—to help support a wider array of technologies. Earlier this month, the Thread Group announced the latest version of its protocol, version 1.2, which it noted was built for interoperability.
“Not only can Thread 1.2 seamlessly integrate with other IP-based networking technologies, it has far lower power requirements relative to comparable solutions, thus improving the battery life of IoT devices,” Thread Group President Grant Erickson said in a news release.
In a recent blog post, OCF noted the importance of interoperability in building a strong connected-device ecosystem.
“IoT standards, like interoperability, ensure cooperation and seamless connectivity between different environments and networks,” according to OCF. “By allowing devices from different vendors to communicate, IoT standards enable and increase the number of compatible devices in an ecosystem, as well as promote firmware and device diversity.”
(OCF manages the IoTivity standard, and it merged with another major player in the iIoT field, AllJoyn, in 2016.)
Interoperability is gaining traction in other segments of the IoT field as well, such as smart cities. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute, for one, published a framework to build context around data in city-based IoT implementations, no matter its source.
And the Zigbee Alliance, which uses a separate radio-based technology from Bluetooth or IP technology, has increased its focus on interoperability, including with Thread. The alliance, which works with Amazon, Samsung, and IKEA, recently announced the All Hubs Initiative to improve communication between consumer platforms and IoT devices.
Does all of this sound a little complicated? Sure. Long story short: The connected devices you own, no matter how they communicate with the internet, will eventually work better together.