The Internet of Things (IoT) may have started in the home with devices like smart thermostats but must bridge the interior with the outside world through integrated services to reach its full potential. With the smartphone becoming the primary portal into the IoT for most individuals, it is clear that mobile access must be supported wherever people are and not just indoors. Many emerging IoT services, such as eHealth, will be delivered via the smartphone and devices tethered to it, which again will only yield the full benefits given ubiquitous access. In addition many elements of emerging smart cities will interact and overlap with the smart home, driving services and networks that embrace all connected objects wherever they are.
For all of this to happen there has to be a common environment for IoT services enabling all the devices to be discovered, interact, be managed and monitored, with ability to extract data from them as required. As a specialist in operating platforms for entertainment and the smart home, SoftAtHome has long been aware of the need for a common framework for IoT. We have developed our SOP software as a hardware independent platform for delivering and storing digital entertainment in the home as well as controlling smart services like home security, and we have been extending this to the IoT. But in the absence of mature standards, we have kept the CPE decoupled from the network and the cloud, while drawing inspiration from the three principle frameworks evolving for the IoT, ensuring we are aligned with them.
We should note here that in the IoT arena, standards fall into four distinct layers. At the bottom is the physical access layer where the focus in on optimizing existing protocols such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z-Wave for IoT services. Above this is the network layer covering access to the Internet through the TCP/IP protocol stack, with a focus on message based connectivity management through the two-way Web Socket protocol for example, which emerged with HTML5.
Next up is the part most specific to IoT, the enabling service layer or framework within which all devices interoperate and exchange data. Fourthly, at the top is the application layer, where standards are being developed by bodies such as IETF, OASIS, OMA, and W3C, but these are not confined just to IoT services.
When the subject of IoT standards arises it is usually in the context of the second layer from the top, the service enabling framework. Here there are three main initiatives, all of which SoftAtHome is following closely. Unlike in some sectors, the three groups are not in total opposition since there are some members common to two or more, like Microsoft and Qualcomm, with growing compatibility between them. One, the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), is taking a more traditional approach by defining specific standards for IoT services, although it is now also engaging with an open source project called IoTivity, which includes a reference implementation of the specifications available under the Apache Software Foundation license.
The second group, the AllSeen Alliance, has a very similar mission to build a scalable framework for expanding IoT services but with a focus on interconnecting with existing environments rather than developing new standards. It is doing this through an open source project as part of the Linux Foundation, developing a secure and programmable framework called AllJoyn within which software developers and IoT device makers can create interoperable projects that can discover, connect and interact directly with nearby systems, independent of the transport layer or platform.
Then the third major IoT standards project is the oneM2M initiative launched by ETSI in 2012, whose first complete set of specifications under Release 1 was published in March 2016. This is significant because it enjoys the backing of the mobile operator community as a “super standard” for all IoT activities, also embracing elements of OCF’s IoTivity as the device discovery and control framework. It is essentially a common M2M or IoT service layer that can be embedded within hardware and software components so that they can interact with a server at the application level.
All three groups have fast growing memberships including all the major players between them except Google, Amazon and Apple, which have their own ecosystems for commercial reasons. It is all the more important that all other players combine their resources as effectively and selflessly as possible and they are doing that, with growing synergy and collaboration between the groups. Now OCF’s Allseen devices are compatible with Iotivity for example, following release of a bridge by Microsoft, a key member of both groups, in April 2016 as part of its Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the first major revision to the OS.
Such developments will accelerate IoT deployments and we see standards in general as absolutely critical for development of solutions that are scalable, future proof and fully interoperable. As a result SoftAtHome will continue to work closely with all three groups and incorporate appropriate elements within our SOP platform.
Photo: SoftAtHome illustrates what it thinks the home will look like in the IoT era