If the consumer electronics industry had its own version of the GQ magazine, Internet of Things (IoT) would be on the cover as the sexiest topic of the year. The concept of connecting everyday objects was a big theme at the 2015 CES, featuring everything from pet trackers, Bluetooth diapers, to smart appliances and whole-home systems. Among the vendors, Samsung seemed especially bullish, with CEO BK Yoon pledging that the majority of the company’s products would be connected to the Internet in five years.
But despite the proliferation of devices, the IoT landscape is very much fragmented with differentiation and various exclusive applications. That means that devices aren’t interoperable or they use competing standards.
Developing IoT Standards
Citing IoT as “the Wild West,” principal architect at CableLabs Clarke Stevens said in a recent blog post that standards can help in the long run. For now, an application provider with extensive support resources and the ability to integrate in a rapidly evolving environment will be required. This is an opportunity for cable as it’s well positioned to create a common environment for its own subscribers and impact the development of IoT, according to CableLabs. Both the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) and the AllSeen Alliance are working to standardize the space and make devices interoperable. However, having two separate groups might create a potential battle between some of the industry’s biggest players. OIC members include companies like Dell, Intel, Samsung and Cisco, while AllSeen has LG, Microsoft, Sharp, Sony, Panasonic and Qualcomm as members.
IoT has triggered a slew of startups, such as the Chicago-based Oomi. Looking to redefine the smart home, the company’s devices rely on self-learning instead of programming, which is what most smart home devices are focused on. The company’s home automation system, dubbed the Oomi Cube, features a security camera, sensor, as well as controls for lighting, heating, TV and other home appliances. Through its adaptive intelligence system the device learns the customer’s behavior as he/she uses it and deploys new actions accordingly. And don’t worry, the device won’t take over the home, as permission from the user is needed. The company is targeting the first half of 2015 for an official launch.
Smart home is a natural fit for cable, the primary broadband provider to the home. Major MSOs have already entered the market. But how about connected cars? Some may see them as an opportunity beyond cable. CableLabs disagrees. Cable can be an aggregator and service provider to bring the connected car services to its subscriber base, according to the group. Meanwhile, much like the development of 4K/UltraHD, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem for manufacturers. Prices will remain high unless volume goes up. But until vendors lower the prices, it’s hard to achieve volume.
IoT is still very much early stage, but it’s already drawn attention from regulators. The Federal Trade Commission recently released a staff report with recommendations on how to insure the safety and security of personal information in connected devices. The report will be discussed during a Senate Commerce hearing on February 11. “As we explore smart ways to shape the Internet of Things—realizing both its benefits and risks—the Commerce Committee is best positioned to ensure the United States remains the global leader in innovation. If properly channeled, the Internet of Things can be a game changer for the U.S. economy and American consumers,” said Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI), who initiated the hearing, in a joint statement.