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Google-backed Thread, OCF form alliance for Internet of Things sanity

Fragmented market slowly coming together

The internet of things standards mess has become a little saner, with the news that the Google-backed Thread Group will interoperate with the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF).

The two clans have said they will "work together in their mission to advance the adoption of connected home products" and make their technologies "fully compatible."

The groups' technologies do not overlap – Thread is a networking protocol, and the OCF produces application-level software – so the alliance is not going to remove one of the multiple clashes in the IoT market, but it does point to the fact that standards bodies recognize that they need to start working with one another.

"Thread Group members identified and prioritized OCF as a strategically important application layer to run over the Thread wireless mesh network," said its president Grant Erickson. "In order for consumers to put their faith in the connected home, their experience must be simple, reliable, and effortless."

Both groups' work is centered on how to support the low-power but high-connectivity requirements of the internet of things. The other main complication with such systems – and why there are so many companies trying to become de facto standards in what is expected to become an enormous market in the future – is that they need to be highly scalable.

By working together, smart-home and other IoT products should overcome two significant barriers to consumer uptake: security and simplicity.


"This collaboration with Thread is special," said the OCF's executive director Mike Richmond. "With Thread, we are able to provide both of our members with a joint solution that enables companies to more easily develop solutions for the connected home."

Despite The Thread Group's high profile thanks to inclusion in the Nest thermostat and Google's involvement, it is currently not used widely in the market. Likewise, while the OCF has some big members – notably rival chipmakers Intel and Qualcomm – it has yet to see its software appear in any commercial products.

Back in May, Google open-sourced Thread in an effort to build some momentum behind its standard. It was also likely trying to align itself more ideologically with the open-sourced OCF, and to stay relevant as the OCF also discussed working with the Allseen Alliance's AllJoyn code.

In terms of IoT ecosystems, there is also Apple's closed HomeKit approach, which is still struggling despite its big name backer because of a decision to require companies insert a special Apple chip in their products.

And then there is Samsung's SmartThings, which boasts the company's specialized IoT Artik chips. And LG's SmartThinQ. And Amazon's Alexa/Echo.

As for standards, you have Nest's Weave, Google's Brillo, ZigBee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth LE. All have their pluses and minuses, and all have backing from large companies that want to put out a new wave of next-generation products in the coming years.

Where all those standards and protocols will come down is still anyone's guess. ®

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