Intel, Samsung, Dell, Broadcom, Atmel and Wind River have come together to form the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) in an effort to standardise the way that devices communicate with each other.
The goal of the OIC is to create a standard for IoT (Internet of Things) devices that would allow them to communicate regardless of the underlying operating system.
According to Intel VP Doug Fisher, "The rise and ultimate success of the Internet of Things depends on the ability for devices and systems to securely and reliably interconnect and share information. This requires common frameworks, based on truly open, industry standards. Our goal in founding this new consortium is to solve the challenge of interoperable connectivity for the Internet of Things without tying the ecosystem to one company's solution."
Read more: Internet of Things: How did it come to be?
The organisation is currently focusing on smart home and office technologies but could branch out into other areas. They are looking into building upon existing technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zwave and others.
The OIC premise is laudable but they aren’t the only players in this field. Qualcomm has been encouraging other companies to adopt AllSeen, an open source effort that grew out of its own proprietary work with AllJoyn. Qualcomm says they have more than 60 companies already on board.
There are also a handful of other intercommunication standards out there for smart home devices and who knows what’s going to happen when companies like Google and Apple get their teeth firmly embedded in the IoT.
Intel said it considered joining the AllSeen effort, but found it lacking in some areas, such as support for industry standard security and intellectual property protection, and here’s where things begin to get tricky.
In the past industry ‘standards’ have had to compromise around security and intellectual property issues. Early VCR manufacturers had to implement Macrovision encryption to placate the movie industry. Later PC manufacturers were discouraged from allowing computers to play DVD movies until they could prove no one could pirate the films and that led to Content Scramble System (CSS) that was cracked a few years later. And then we had CPRM, AES, AACS and others. When HDMI was introduced it included its own variations on Digital Rights Management (DRM) that the movie and music industries insisted upon. Theoretically, while HDMI was intended to enable devices from different manufacturers to communicate with each other, it was also supposed to be able to identify which devices were capable of recording signals and block those signals if a DVD creator didn’t want people to copy their copyrighted materials. Didn’t really turn out the way they expected.
Another problem with standards created by consortiums is that no matter how altruistic the companies behind the standard say they are, some bit of proprietary code always seems to slip in somewhere and from then on, anyone wishing to utilise that standard (or claim compliance) has to pay royalties. (Sony and Panasonic both get a few pennies for every single CD, DVD, BluRay or any disc-based storage medium sold – every single one!)
Finally there is a good-old-boy mentality when it comes to standards consortiums. They say they are open groups and anyone can join and contribute, but what they don’t tell you is that it can cost tens of thousands of dollars just to join. And just because you are a member doesn’t mean you get an equal vote. When Sun owned Java and began trying to make it a semi-open ‘standard’ there were many complaints by members who didn’t have multi-billion dollar companies behind them that many times their concerns were placed at the bottom of the list while the issues put forward by the larger companies were given priority.
Sometimes standards are a good thing, but like anything they can be manipulated and abused.