New Tech Group Joins Crowded Field to Set Rules for 'Internet of Things'

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Don Clark

Silicon Valley is selling the idea of putting computing and communications power into all kinds of everyday devices. But agreeing on how to do that isn't easy, and diverging approaches keep appearing.

Intel Corp. and several other companies Tuesday are announcing the formation of the Open Interconnect Consortium, a group that hopes to set technical ground rules for what the industry calls the Internet of Things. The alliance--whose members include Dell Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and Broadcom Corp.--plans to initially focus on home automation and office applications.

But others are pursuing similar goals. They include the AllSeen Alliance, a group that was initially pushed by rival chip maker Qualcomm Inc. and now includes members such as Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc.

Other big players, including Apple Inc. and Google Inc., have also recently discussed plans for connecting various kinds of devices together.

"These things are very much analogous--I suppose you could say competitive" said David Friedman, chief executive of Ayla Networks, a startup developing online software for managing connected devices.

The Internet of Things refers to adding computer chips and sensors to devices like door locks, lights, thermostats, TVs, security cameras, home appliances and cars. In many cases, hardware makers are trying to make their products more useful by allowing them to be controlled remotely by smartphones and tablets.

Most of the products are expected to exploit some sort of wireless technology, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, so they can be remotely managed by smartphones or tablets. But other standard building blocks are needed, industry executives say, for tasks like helping devices to identify each other and exchange messages.

Backers of the Open Interconnect Consortium stress the need for security features and software to help writers of application programs exploit connected devices. They say it will release creations on what the industry calls an open- source basis, which allows participants to study and modify underlying computer instructions used to make a piece of software.

"The intent here is to bring a truly open and standard-based organization," said Rahul Patel, Broadcom's senior vice president and general manager in charge of wireless connectivity.

That goal is nearly identical to that espoused by the AllSeen Alliance, founded in December, which also plans to release open-source software based on a technology called AllJoyn.

"My first reaction is one of puzzlement," said Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm's interactive platform, when told of the Open Interconnect Consortium. He expressed fears that the two groups will create a fragmented situation, with duplicative software that will be found on some devices and not others. "We don't need multiple standards," Mr. Chandhok said.

Douglas Fisher, vice president and general manager of Intel's software and services unit, said the new initiative is trying to unify rather than fragment the market, inviting any and all companies to help define and adopt its technology. "Our objective is to get this to be the standard," he said.

One difference in approach, backers of the new initiative say, is that interested companies have an option besides using the open-source software developed by the group. Companies can also take technical specifications the group develops and create proprietary software based on them, an option they say some potential participants favor.

Though confusing for the moment, Ayla's Mr. Friedman said many prior technologies went through periods of competing standards that took years to shake out. "Fragmentation is one of the challenges that all of these markets have," he said.

Other members of the new group include Atmel Corp., another chip maker, and Wind River Systems Inc., an Intel software unit. Mr. Fisher said the first version of its software should be available by the end of the third quarter.

Write to Don Clark at don.clark@wsj.com

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