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7 September 2018

OCF unleashes v2.0, big names commit to 2019 devices, finally time?

The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) has released v2.0 of its OCF Specification, the device interoperability standard that it hopes will bring unity to the smart home. With some major device vendors promising devices using the standard next year, this could be the push that is needed to get the ball rolling. Or, conversely, the market might carry on with the same apparent apathy that has gripped it for the past four years.

Electrolux, Haier, LG, and Samsung are promising to use IoTivity (the open source part that is based on the OCF Specs) in 2019 products, and given their collective weight in domestic and white goods appliance markets globally, this could be a big step forward.

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. Please note, with the update the OCF spec is now up to v2.0, while IoTivity is on v1.3.1 – and was last updated in December 2017. Eventually, those updates will make it to IoTivity.

The OCF, formerly known as the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), has been racking up partnerships and integrations. Most significantly, it absorbed its closest rival, the AllSeen Alliance and its AllJoyn protocol, and later the UPnP Forum. More recently Z-Wave parent Sigma Designs (now owned by Silicon Labs) has joined up, and the OCF and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) announced a liaison agreement to co-develop standards for IoT device management – bringing LWM2M and IoTivity closer.

So, the Linux Foundation’s OCF seems to be the big dog here, and now it might be on the verge of finally getting some of the scale required to push IoTivity as the de facto way of making one device find and speak to another when in proximity – enabling that vision of the smart home.

However, it has taken longer than expected to make it this far. Device certification seems pretty slow, and if you take the view that the aforementioned vendors are laying the foundation for IoTivity adoption in the smart home, then you’d have to tack on an additional couple of years for the rest of the market to catch up.

And so it sounds pretty disappointing to be talking about a 2021 smart home vision when Google had bought Nest way back in 2014. That’s a long time to essentially figure out the back-end, as the devices themselves have seemed pretty capable. Cloud-to-cloud integrations via APIs are possible, but the issue there is both the ability to scale that programming burden and the ability to let one of those devices find its comrades within a home network.

As it stands, users can get a pretty good experience with a small number of devices. Their thermostat is likely going to work fine by itself, and maybe they can easily hook up a few connected lights to an Echo, and perhaps a connected door lock too. But those devices have no native way of knowing that the others exist, and require manual linking in order to have some sort of IFTTT workflow.

This is where OCF’s IoTivity comes in, as that paradigm can’t scale. That’s only a handful of devices, and you need four different smartphone apps and web accounts to configure them. Once you scale to 5 or even 10 devices per room, that user experience quickly becomes nightmarish – and for a sense of scale, Amazon has just announced that its Alexa system has over 20,000 device integrations, growing from 4,000 back in January.

But there’s always the danger that a brand tries to set up a walled garden, to lock a consumer into its ecosystem. If inclined to do so, there’s no incentive to implement IoTivity, but in most respects, that’s a fight that the OCF isn’t going to win – there’s not much convincing in that argument, if the goal is to keep other brands out and retain complete control over that precious user data.

The new OCF v2.0 adds some welcome security features, with new public key encryption and certificate hosting that allows manufacturers to self-host the certificates themselves. The spec falls short of mandating more extensive security requirements, such as data encryption, but the OCF does have an internal security checklist that is recommended to its members.

“Security continues to be a top priority for manufacturers and developers alike, and the addition of PKI and cloud management capabilities into OCF’s core framework builds upon the most critical piece of device interoperability – identity,” said Brian Scriber, Principal Security Architect, CableLabs, Chair, Security Working Group, OCF. “OCF is actively making strides to bring a higher level of security to consumer electronics and establish a fortified connected ecosystem for end users and businesses alike.”