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27 February 2016

OIC relaunches as OCF, with Qualcomm and Microsoft on board

Microsoft and Qualcomm have joined the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), prompting the device connectivity body to relaunch as the Open Connectivity Forum. The move brings Qualcomm, the founder of the river AllJoyn project, now an open source endeavour, endorse the OIC’s IoTivity standard, in what sounds like the beginning of future consolidation.

Not that either body would or will publicly confirm such a move. The Open Interconnect Consortium has been pushing its spec, and the accompanying IoTivity open source implementation, as a way of connecting devices in local proximity to each other, and also to cloud platforms. Its main rival, the AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn protocol, also has the backing of quite a few members of the now-OCF, but its main difference from IoTivity is its need to use a bridging layer to access the open internet.

This is something that the OCF is quite proud of, calling IoTivity a cloud-native standard – with the inference that AllJoyn is not. It’s a fair assertion, although there are a number of internet-bridging stacks and apps that are available to AllJoyn adopters, so not being cloud-native isn’t the be-all and end-all of AllJoyn’s cloud connectivity.

There have been ongoing rumbles that at some point the two standards initiatives would merge their efforts, although the Linux Foundation (which houses both of the projects) has recently said that the two projects remain separate entities, and will continue to be so.

Similarly, the final architectures of the emerging smart home will likely center around a gateway device that contains enough radios to be able to connect to the majority of smart home devices, and enough processing power to store and manage the separate stacks.

Given that this sort of gateway architecture will be needed to mitigate the number of different radio protocols that are being used in the smart home, having to manage different stacks isn’t too much of an issue – but it’s definitely not the most efficient model to move forward with, if every piece of smart home CPE is going to require both an AllJoyn and an IoTivity stack.

Speaking to Kim Lewis (title) and Michael Richmond, the Executive Director of the OCF, at MWC, we were told that the OIC roadmap hadn’t changed – and that the group is still looking at expanding out of its smart home and building core interests, with automotive and medical namedropped as useful areas to expand into. The OCF’s standard is aiming to be a cross-industry horizontal solution that is vertically agnostic.

Microsoft’s announcement positions the OCF as an overarching standards body. “We have helped lead the formation of the OCF because we believe deeply in its vision and the potential an open standard can deliver. Despite the opportunity and promise of the IoT to connect devices in the home or in businesses, competition between various open standards and closed company protocols have slowed adoption and innovation. Much like the W3C manages the standards for the World Wide Web, the IEEE sets electrical engineering standards, and the UPU sets the global postal code – standardization can help consolidate industry attention and create opportunity, via an agreed upon set of protocols that move industries and the world forward.”

Windows 10 already includes the AllJoyn stack in some 200m devices. If it is equally supportive of IoTivity, then Windows 10 could be well placed to run as the central OS to configure and coordinate IoT deployments – in homes, but especially in the SMB and enterprise space.

Microsoft is also keen on developing different versions of Windows 10 to suit different usage needs, so that different device classes can still tie into its Windows ecosystem. Similarly, its Azure cloud computing platform is being slanted to accommodate IoT applications and devices, and Microsoft is promising that its Windows devices will shortly contain all the APIs needed to integrate with OCF devices.

As for Qualcomm, Michael Wallace, President of its Connected Experiences division, said “Qualcomm has pursued the goal of open interoperability from the beginning. We helped develop the AllJoyn framework to drive this goal, and now we look forward to collaborating with leading IoT-focused companies to form the OCF for precisely the same reason. We look forward to achieving the IoT vision we all share.”