IoT Standards: War Is Not Over

Technology

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Conflict can create a desire for unity. The Consumer Internet of Things market is fragmented, and wide ranging Consumer IoT technologies often elicit the hope for one, broadly deployed standard.

That idea commonly surfaces in tech commentary. In an article about the “standards wars” in the Consumer IoT market, for instance, Contractor Mag contributor Ken Sinclair writes that what’s holding the Smart Home back from realizing its full potential is the lack of a broad, standards-based developer environment. “The sooner we settle on a robust protocol,” he writes, “the quicker we’ll get to that Smart Home vision.”

Wireless Protocols

The challenge faced by the Consumer IoT industry is a variety of networking technologies and software frameworks. Here we’ll focus on networking, where the idea that a single protocol could prevail seems reasonable enough, given the widespread success of WiFi. Twenty years ago, the IEEE released the now-ubiquitous 802.11 WiFi base standard. Since then broadband and consumer electronics (CE) markets have benefited from its stability and serial improvements.

WiFi is power-hungry and optimized for a large-volume of data, making it a poor fit for Smart Home applications, which involve small packets of data and little power. An upcoming version of (802.11ah) is much more IoT-friendly, but it faces several competitive protocols (none of which, admittedly, are perfect):

  • Bluetooth LE – Trying hard to improve on the legacy version, Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) is architected for data bursts and sleep states, which saves battery life, and includes support for privacy and IPv6.
  • ZigBee – Based on the 802.15.4 physical layer specification, ZigBee enables a low-power, mesh network and is well suited for low data rates. Its various profiles, however, have led to interoperability issues.
  • Z-Wave – Also low power and mesh-network compliant, Z-Wave has an upgraded core security framework but manufacturers must license this standard, managed by the Z-Wave Alliance.
  • Thread – Like ZigBee, Thread is designed to operate on top of 802.15.2. Backed by Nest, Samsung and ARM, it is another low-power mesh protocol, but is Google-centric and has a small installed base.

Declare a Protocol Truce

This mix of technology is potentially paralyzing. You might consider waiting for one protocol to prevail, but that could take years. Entering a “religious war” over which radio is superior is similarly unproductive. A third way, using a protocol-agnostic platform, frees you from conflict and paralysis. And as the first technology company to demonstrate five radios working in a single commercialized solution, we here at DCDial recommend that approach.

There is no substitute for a deep understanding of network protocols, how manufacturers have implemented them, and how they are evolving. DCDIal’s Solutions, based on a hybrid, home/cloud architecture, includes intelligence in the hub and the ability to push software and even new protocols to our device ecosystem.

The choice is simple: You can deal with complexity, as we have, or somehow wish it away. Good luck with that second option.

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