By Megan Anderle, Editor and Contributing Writer
Call it the Internet of Everything. The market for connected devices — tea kettles, doorbells, dishwashers to name just a few — is exploding, valued at $33 billion in 2013 and expected to reach $71 billion in 2018, according to Juniper Research.
But all the Internet-connected thermostats, kitchen appliances, washers and dryers in the world are only minimally useful if products fail to communicate with one another. A harmonious system in which your smart thermostat shares data with your sleep tracker to adjust the temperature as you’re falling asleep adds value far more than two devices that are independently operable through our smartphones.
“Most of the new products I see are highly disjointed and not well integrated because they don’t operate over a single ecosystem,” Andrew Kokhanovskyi, CTO of CyberVision, which makes an open-source IoT platform called Kaa, told Tech Page One.
Currently, smart devices communicate over all kinds of networks: LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Z-Wave as well as mesh networking. A number of groups, including the Industrial Internet Consortium, the Open Interconnect Consortium and the AllSeen Alliance, are trying to establish protocols for making devices more compatible, but each has its own agenda. This lack of standardization has been problematic, hindering the industry from moving forward.
“We’re in the foothills of a massive transformation; we have mountains to climb,” Alain Louchez, managing director at the Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT) at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, told Tech Page One. “It will take three to five years at least for change to occur.”
Fiercely competitive tech companies such as General Electric, Samsung and *** are attempting to build their own de facto set of standards. Based on the way things are now, a consumer would have to purchase all of one brand to have a truly synchronized system, which is just not realistic. Plus, no single company has the utmost expertise in every area of smart home technology, so collaboration is the key to building quality products.
Why open platforms are crucial
The only viable solution is for consumer electronics companies to form partnerships with competitors and to share their APIs with developers.
“Clearly, we’re in a very competitive world, and that isn’t going to change,” Louchez said. “But the central question is, can we afford not to collaborate?”
With billions of dollars at stake, technology companies can’t. Samsung, which promised that 90 percent of its devices will be Internet-connected by 2017, set a precedent by announcing its platform would be open.
“Attempts to close or silence parts of the Internet of Things are contrary to what makes this technology a potential game changer for society,” Samsung CEO BK Yoon said at his company’s Consumer Electronics Show keynote.
Samsung’s subsidiary Smart Technologies currently has 1,000 devices and 8,000 applications for the smart home. Partners and independent third-party developers can integrate a new device with SmartThings, and once integrated, SmartApps can immediately start using that device.
“The SmartThings platform abstracts the capabilities of devices away from their make, model and connectivity protocol,” Jeff Hagins, co-founder and CTO of SmartThings, told Tech Page One. “That means that to a SmartApp, a door lock is a door lock, no matter whether it is ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, or BLE.”
Consumers “just want them to work,” Hagins added. “We figured the same should be true for developers too.”
Perhaps Samsung will inspire other companies to follow suit.
“You see what happened with Nest; when they opened their API, it connected with your ceiling fans and shades to cool down the house and make it much more efficient, and as soon as they open their APIs, it creates extra value for the customer,” Martin Vesper, CEO of digitalSTROM, which connects electrical appliances, told Tech Page One. “The consumer gets so much more flexibility, and things run in a more sophisticated, automated way when this happens.”
The simple fact that a number of consortiums have been formed in recent years is a sign that the Internet of Things is headed in a positive direction.
“There are more and more conferences and seminars happening relating to the Internet of Things, and companies that weren’t talking now are talking,” Louchez said. “Companies have to converge to gain more expertise if they want to make money and create value. Entire business models will have to change — it’s in the interest of big and small companies alike.”
The Open Interconnect Consortium, which brings together Samsung, Intel, General Electric and others, launched in July and is working toward finishing its open-source code IoTivity 1.0 standard for availability later this year. A developer who wanted to operate, say a Philips Hue smart light bulb, could do so using the code.
“The idea is, a few years from now, when IoT is more commonplace and isn’t as shiny or new, we won’t have 15 apps on our smartphones to control all our IoT devices,” Guy Martin, head of digital marketing at OIC, and senior strategist for the Samsung Open Source Group, told Tech Page One.