Open Connectivity Foundation continues IoT land-grab with OMA deal

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

Because many IoT environments will see devices behaving in an ad hoc and unpredictable fashion, there needs to be an efficient way for IoT devices to discover each other easily when they are nearby, and begin communicating. There are practical reasons for this, such as guarding against interference, and making it easier to add and remove devices within a location. In an office building, this might 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 a DIY installation.

The other major benefit of a discovery system is a crowdsourced wisdom that allows the many different devices to make better decisions based on collective learning. While this function is actually carried out at the network controlling layer, probably inside the local gateway or hub, it enables scenarios like door sensors alerting security cameras to pay attention, or ambient light sensors triggering changes in HVAC settings.

In order for that gateway to 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 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 two organizations say that they will explore a collaboration between the OMA’s Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) standard, which is a device management protocol for sensor networks, and the ‘OCF Specifications’ – which will eventually make their way into the open source platform, IoTivity (the open source implementation of the OCF specs). If the liaison leads to additions to OCF’s spec, then the IoTivity framework will be updated to match. Anyone can use IoTivity, but only OCF members can use and contribute to the core specifications and achieve certification.

IoTivity was always pretty prominent in the OCF branding, but 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 OMA deal “reinforces OCF’s role as a driving force for harmonization and consolidation within IoT interconnectivity”. And the body has done its bit to cut down the number of IoT standards bodies. Back in October 2016, it absorbed the AllSeen Alliance and its AllJoyn protocol, which was essentially a rival approach standardizing device discovery and communication. The most notable difference between the two protocols was that the OCF implementation was IP-native, meaning that IP devices could directly communicate over a remote connection – whereas an AllJoyn device would require some sort of IP bridge to translate the messages. Both systems are now hosted by the Linux Foundation.

Prior to that deal, the OCF also swallowed the UPnP Forum – an even older organization that was more focused on devices found inside homes, allowing PCs, printers and games consoles to connect more easily with each other via WiFi devices.

As for the OMA, in February it approved version 1.0 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.

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 our 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 general manager Seth Newberry. “OMA recognizes the importance of working with other organizations and standards bodies to ensure broad industry participation.”