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8 September 2017

IoTivity and LWM2M love-in, under OCF and OMA liaison

The Open Connectivity Foundation’s (OCF) IoT assimilation continues, with the announcement of a liaison agreement with the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) – which will see the pair work on co-developing standardized approaches for IoT device management.

Because many IoT environments will be ad-hoc and dynamic, with devices appearing in an unpredictable fashion, unlike the planned meticulousness of a data center in contrast, there needs to be an efficient way for IoT devices within proximity of each other to easily discover each other and begin communicating.

There are practical reasons for this, such as to ensure that communications don’t cause interference with each other, but the most appealing use of this function would be for easier additions and removals from a location. In an office building, this would mean that replacement light fittings or HVAC units would be able to discover the correct coordinating network for them to join, and inside a home, similar but smaller-scale functions should smooth out the DIY elements of an installation.

The other major benefit of this discovery system is a crowd-sourced wisdom that allows the many different devices to collectively make better decisions. While this function is actually carried out at the network controlling layer, likely inside the local gateway or hub, it means that things like door sensors can alert security cameras that they should pay attention, or ambient light sensors triggering changes in HVAC settings.

In order for that gateway to actually issue the necessary commands, all those devices have to be able to connect to it and the network it maintains. In a small deployment, a manual process wouldn’t be too much of a headache, but once at scale, managing these connections would quickly become too costly. This is especially true of mobile devices, which might return to base intermittently but still need to join a network on their return – and that’s where the new OCF-OMA partnership steps in.

The pair say that they will explore a collaboration between the OMA’s Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) standard, which is a device management protocol for sensor networks (hence the ‘lightweight’ angle), and the “OCF Specifications” – which will eventually make its way into the open source variant, IoTivity. If the liaison leads to additions to OCF’s spec, then the IoTivity framework will be updated to match.

There has always been a distinction between the OCF spec and IoTivity, namely that IoTivity is the open source implementation of the OCF spec. Broadly, this means that anyone can use IoTivity, but only OCF members can use and contribute to the core specification – and certification. But IoTivity was always pretty prominent in the OCF branding, and that seems to have changed. Upon heading to the OCF’s homepage, a ctrl+f search for ‘IoTivity’ comes up with nothing.

The OCF (formerly the OIC)  says the deal “reinforces OCF’s role as a driving force for harmonization and consolidation within IoT interconnectivity.” An outsider might think that was a tad pompous, but the OCF has done its part in cutting down the number of IoT standards bodies.

Back in October 2016, the OCF absorbed the AllSeen Alliance and its AllJoyn protocol, which was essentially a rival approach to the goal of having a standard approach to devices discovering each other and communicating within a local network or environment. The most notable difference between the two protocols was that the OCF implementation was IP-native, meaning that IP device could directly communicate with them over a remote connection – whereas an AllJoyn device would require some sort of IP bridge to translate the messages.

Both are now housed within the Linux Foundation, and prior to that deal, the OCF also swallowed the UPnP Forum – an even older organization that was more focused on devices typically found inside homes, allowing PCs, Printers, and games consoles to more easily connect with each other via WiFi networking devices. The Linux Foundation hosts the OneIoTa, IoTivity, and AllJoyn projects, all under one roof.

Back in February, the OMA approved v1.0 of LWM2M, which has both a server and client function, and defines the way that the two communicate with each other. Because most client devices are either power or connectivity constrained, the spec has been designed to be as lightweight as possible – for cellular and sensor network connections. The key focus is ensuring that messages are passed from client to server in as light a manner as possible, originally designed for device management purposes but now extended to support generic data exchange.

Frequently using CoAP to translate from HTTP, it supports UDP (IP) and SMS for the transport layers, and has been implemented on ARM’s mbed OS, Eclipse Leshan and Wakaama, as well as lesser-known platforms like AVSystem Anjay, Awa LightweightM2M, and IoTerop IOWA.

LWM2M is not to be confused with oneM2M, which launched v2.0 of its standard in September 2016. oneM2M sits higher up the stack, essentially managing how those servers interact with each other, rather than the clients. There has been some work in combining the device-layer LWM2M with oneM2M layers higher up the application stack, and this Sierra Wireless presentation does a good job of outlining that process.

In terms of future moves in the industry, it would make sense to see oneM2M broaden its reach with more formal or standardized integrations with L2M2M and the OCF spec – especially if the OCF-OMA partnership leads to a new combined standard. Consolidation across the IoT standards landscape is definitely a good thing, and whether that’s done for developers via formal integrations or the eventual merging of these separate organizations into fewer administrations, a streamlined ecosystem would be welcome.

As for what the two bodies make of the deal; “OCF had a need to address the standardization of device management to identify expertise in all connected verticals and create a comprehensive solution for the IoT,” said John Park, Executive Director of the OCF. “We are excited to work with a well-established solution that addresses interconnectivity within the mobile industry, and continue out momentum toward unlocking the full potential of the IoT.”

“With LWM2M, OMA has responded to demand in the IoT market for a common standard for managing lightweight and low power devices on a variety of networks necessary to realize seamless interoperability,” said OMA GM Seth Newberry. “OMA recognizes the importance of working with other organizations and standards bodies to ensure broad industry participation.”