Merger of IoT bodies will not be enough to quicken the standards process

The Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) and the IPSO Alliance have merged to create a new mobile technologies and IoT-focused standards body – OMA SpecWorks. It’s another instance of consolidation in the IoT domain, though the overall pace of standards in this world is still slow.

Not that this sometimes glacial pace is preventing progress. Businesses are driving innovation, even if standards efforts do not keep pace. The pace of change has quickened recently thanks to consolidation and interoperability agreements, but there is definitely a sense that many of the organizations engaged with IoT specifications should have been closely linked or merged from the start.

The OMA-IPSO merger follows previous cooperation between the two groups. The pair are aiming to provide a streamlined approach to development, using their working groups to channel efforts according to the group’s particular needs. All of the  OMA and IPSO working groups will be continuing their projects apparently – so none are being jettisoned or wound down.

In separate but similar news, GlobalPlatform and the IoT Connectivity Alliance (ICA) have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop industry-wide standards for IoT security. The two technical bodies will be looking to develop a specification for device authentication, using the GlobalPlatform hardware-based secure element and trusted enclave standards. While not as far-reaching as the OMA SpecWorks scope, it does look like a valuable endeavor.

IPSO (Internet Protocol for Smart Objects) was primarily focused on defining a framework for IoT devices, as a way for things from different developers to identify themselves and communicate with each other – using IP as the basis. It was transport protocol agnostic, meaning that it would work using WiFi, Bluetooth, or even something like ZigBee. Any wireless or wired protocol using the IPSO framework should be able to talk to other devices, once those messages have been gated onto a common network.

Because IoT environments are dynamic, with devices appearing in an unpredictable and intermittent fashion, there needs to be an efficient way for these ad-hoc networks to form – regardless of device manufacturer and the specific networking protocol. The key is finding out which devices are in proximity of each other, and then finding a way to link them – so that a ZigBee sensor would be able to speak to a WiFi device. The value of an IoT deployment increases dramatically if such a framework exists, as more can be done with this extra data.

But such deployments are the polar opposite of a pristine data center. They are messy, unpredictable, and not planned out in such a meticulous fashion. Because of the long deployment life cycle, an IoT installation will change over time, and if a new lighting system can’t speak to the current HVAC system, then there’s a lost opportunity there. This is the sort of problem that a common framework would solve.

OMA is best known for its Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) specification, although it has worked on other specific areas like messaging, APIs, and device management – the last of which has apparently been deployed on over 2bn devices globally. LWM2M has been designed for lightweight devices, but has a client and server function for cellular and sensor network connections. The main focus is ensuring that messages are passed between client and server in as lightweight a manner as possible.

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 – with v3.0 due soon. 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.

OMA and the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF, formerly the OIC) recently announced a liaison agreement, which saw the pair work on co-developing standards for IoT device management. In terms of future moves, we might see the OCF continue its merger activities, perhaps absorbing OMA SpecWorks into the fold. OCF is now housed in the Linux Foundation, and that open source appeal might help sweeten such a deal – if it is floated down the line.

“OMA has accomplished a great deal over the last 16 years, enabling the seamless data services that the industry enjoys today,” said Gary Jones, chairman of OMA’s board. “By combining forces with IPSO, we are able to extend out work to ensure a standardized approach to device management for the IoT that takes advantage of the many smart objects defined by IPSO.”

“With IP now in widespread use, it’s clear that IPSO achieved its goal, said Jan Höller, former board member of IPSO and now a board member of OMA SpecWorks. “Our work on the Smart Object Guidelines, which were implemented by OMA’s LWM2M effort, first brought our organizations together. With a growing need to formalize the definitions, and with our work increasingly focused on issues relating to the IoT services layer, it quickly became apparent that, together, IPSO and OMA could make strong technical progress to define specifications for the IoT.”