Microsoft Chooses Sides in Battle for Internet of Things

Eric Z
Jul. 02 2014, 02:00PM EDT

Microsoft today said it wants to be able to play with the Internet of Things. The Redmond, Wash.-based company announced it has joined the AllSeen Alliance and the Industrial Internet Consortium, two organizations looking to standardize the Internet of Things before it truly gets off the ground. This is good news for developers.

"We believe that there is a critical set of work our industry must undertake in order to make sure we deliver the right set of platforms and services to realize the IoT opportunity," said Kevin Dallas, general manager of Microsoft's Internet of Things group. "Microsoft is committed to being an active participant in these discussions."

The AllSeen Alliance was formed in December by Qualcomm and other companies. Its mission is to ensure that connected devices and objects work together regardless of brand, operating system and other infrastructure considerations. The members are putting Qualcomm's open source AllJoyn code to work in creating this universal software platform. The Industrial Internet Consortium's goal is similar, as it hopes to connect devices via open interoperability standards and common architectures.

The Internet of Things has become the descriptor for what will eventually be connected devices in homes and businesses. A great example is the Google Nest thermostat. Right now, only smartphones can interact with Nest. Google recently released an SDK, however, that will change that. The same is true of Apple and its HomeKit platform. Apple wants iPhone and iPad owners to be able to control objects in their homes, such as garage doors. HomeKit will let developers build support for such interactions into their apps. The problem is that these are proprietary systems and not based on open standards.

Rather than create its own standard, which could further segregate the market, Microsoft is making the right choice by backing a platform that will be more broadly available to everyone. Having an open standard will be best for all IoT players, including developers.

"We believe the promise of IoT lies in making new and existing devices smarter by connecting them to services in the cloud," continued Dallas. "In order for us to collectively realize the full potential of IoT, it’s imperative we have the right conversations as a community to enable these new and emerging devices and cloud services to be able to communicate and interact properly. It’s a big moment for the industry."

That's why news of a potential competing standard is unsettling.

Microsoft, Qualcomm and the AllSeen Alliance are going to have a rival in the near future, according to Reuters. Companies that compete with Qualcomm are forming their own alliance, which may be announced as soon as next week. Reuters didn't name the companies involved but said they will look to create their own IoT standard.

The idea of competing standards bodies is loathsome for several reasons. We need only look at the wireless charging industry as an example. Until February, four organizations were vying to bring wireless charging to the market, each with its own standard. Thank goodness two of the standards organizations saw the light and combined efforts. With too many standards available, none has really taken off as consumer confusion abounds. This is exactly what we don't want when it comes to the IoT.

Microsoft's choice to side with openness is a welcome one, and one that portends well for the future of the Internet of Things.

Eric Z I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for Programmable Web and other online properties.

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