The Open Connectivity Foundation plans to introduce a single open-source code base in place of the alphabet soup of standards for the Internet of Things.
It's an ambitious goal for the group, which was announced just last week, but it may be possible given the OCF's impressive list of members. Intel, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Samsung, GE and Cisco are among the initial members.
Getting all these companies to agree was a big relief for Aicha Evans, corporate vice president and general manager of the Communication and Devices Group at Intel. Her company started two years ago trying to bring everyone in IoT onto the same page, she said in an interview at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
"I had goosebumps, seeing all those companies," Evans said.
OCF launched on Friday with few details about how it hoped to make all kinds of IoT devices work together. Evans filled out the picture a bit more.
Today there are several software platforms for functions like device discovery and authentication, such as the IoTivity project and the AllSeen framework. But under OCF, there will be a single Apache-based code base, Evans said. It won't matter who made the device or the chipset inside it.
OCF won't dictate the underlying network protocols devices use to exchange packets, but it will provide a common way to carry out key functions above that layer. For example, when two devices want to communicate or work together, they'll use OCF to figure out the best way to do so. That includes determining what functions each device can perform, what network protocols it's equipped for, and what spectrum is available in the area.
The industry had to act fast to make sure IoT would work in the long term, Evans said. She raised the spectre of a previous rough rollout when the first smartphone owners tried to use the mobile Internet on 2.5G networks that weren't ready for it.
"If we wait until everybody's putting these machines on the network, we're going to have a catastrophe. It's going to make the iPhone debut on AT&T's network look like a blip," Evans said.
Even with the major players on the same page, IoT won't be easy. In the age of 3G and 4G, complying with an established standard has been enough to make sure products work together. Because IoT is more complex than simple voice and data connections for cellphones, companies will have to cooperate one on one to make it work -- even if they're competitors, Evans said.
The 5G era will be good for Intel, which has had some rough patches in the mobile business, because it will bring together cloud computing along with networks and devices, she said. Intel's strong position in data centers and its emerging small computing devices for IoT could bode well for its future in the space.