Navigant Research Blog

IoT Standards Groups Merge, Paving Way for Increased Device and System Interoperability

— October 18, 2016

AnalyticsOne of the key barriers hampering wider adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is now on course to come down. Two leading IoT standards groups, Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and AllSeen Alliance, have merged, setting up the next steps toward standardization.

The two organizations issued similar statements about their plans on October 10, saying the combined groups will now operate under the Open Connectivity Foundation name. For now, though, work will continue in parallel for both the open-source OCF IoTivity project and AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn software framework. Eventually the two efforts will merge into a single IoTivity standard.

By joining forces, the enhanced OCF is on track to make interoperability among IoT devices and systems more seamless and secure for all stakeholders, including developers, hardware vendors, and end users. This means a smart thermostat should be able to work well and securely with a smart plug, a smart appliance, or a connected door lock.

Other Standards Being Developed

There are other industry players also working on standards, meaning a true standard is still elusive and the market is still fragmented. For example, Thread Group, backed originally by Google, is another entity working to create IoT interoperability standards. Google engineers are also developing a communications language for devices called Weave, a part of the company’s Brillo project, which aims to create an embedded OS for devices.

Nonetheless, the OCF and Thread Group should be credited for working toward a more harmonious market. Last July, OCF and Thread said they plan to cooperate even though they have different aims: Thread is developing a low-power mesh network layer, while OCF is focusing on an application layer that would run on top of the network. OCF is also working in partnership with two other groups, the Industrial Internet Consortium and the European IoT EEBus initiative. In addition, Thread Group has agreed to work with the ZigBee Alliance on a program to ensure interoperability.

A Market in Flux

The trend is moving toward IoT standards, but right now the market is in flux, and the uncertainty has a dampening effect on adoption. While the merger of OCF and AllSeen is a significant step forward, more work is needed among many technologies or groups in this space, like the LoRa Alliance, narrowband Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE), 5G, and the IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard. Bottom line: The IoT interoperability game is more of a marathon than a sprint, with many players vying for attention and market-mind share. The process could take 5 years or more before things settle down. Navigant Research’s recently launched IoT research service focuses on the IoT trend from an energy perspective and will continue to track changes in the interoperability issues of the market.


Safer, Stronger, and Brighter Streets through Lighting Controls

— October 6, 2016

SmartCityWhat impact do street lights have on a city’s populace? According to Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, street lights make the city’s streets “safer, stronger, and brighter.” This is the justification being used for the launch of a new service that allows residents of the district to report street light outages via text message. The challenge with city street lights is that they have a greater impact on how citizens feel than on more quantifiable measures.

The conventional wisdom says that brightly lit streets reduce crime and traffic collisions. Yet, a 2015 study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found little evidence of harmful effects of reduced levels of street lighting on road collisions or crime in England and Wales. Researchers analyzed 14 years of data from 62 local authorities that implemented strategies such as switching lights off permanently, reducing the number of hours that lamps are switched on at night, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with energy efficient white light LED lamps. Empirically, permanently switching off lights did not lead to an increase in crime or car crashes.

But it is too simplistic to conclude that better street lighting has no impact on a community. Another study, this one published in Safety Science, found that well-lit streets make pedestrians feel safer. Politicians, the ones who often shape street lighting decisions, get elected by what the electorate feels to be true, not what actually is true. Moreover, advanced control of street lights can reduce energy and save money.

Where DC Gets It Wrong

Washington, DC’s street light outage monitoring plan relies on residents reporting which of the city’s 70,000 street lights are out. At one point, crowdsourcing a problem like this was innovative; the ubiquity of smartphones and other connected devices only recently permitted such engagement. But, as noted in Navigant Research’s Outdoor Lighting Systems report, adding controls and communication networks to street lights enables municipalities to reduce energy consumption and make monitoring and management more efficient.

The City of Oslo, Norway faced the same challenge in 2010 (back when crowdsourcing was still a thing). The city relied on reports from residents to identify street light failures for its 55,000 street lights. Oslo wanted to make repair crews more efficient and also be able to reduce light levels as needed. In response, the city connected its street lighting into a single remotely accessible network that allows monitoring and control of light levels through Internet-based applications. The move reduced energy use by 62% while also reducing lamp downtime.


Competition Heats Up in the Smart Home Space

— September 27, 2016

Computer and TabletThe Google Home has been an idea looming in the distance since Sundar Pichai introduced the product at Google’s I/O conference earlier this year. Rumor has it that the product will finally make its official debut at an event in October 2016, where it is expected to be formally announced alongside a variety of other new hardware. The Google Home is a Wi-Fi connected smart home speaker that answers questions, plays music requests, and controls a user’s home Internet of Things devices by summoning Google Assistant, a component of Google’s Allo messaging app, through voice recognition.

Google Home is the company’s answer to Amazon’s Echo, which is reportedly already in the hands of some 3 million users. The Amazon Echo has done surprisingly well since its unveiling in 2014, which begs the question: How will Google do it better? For starters, the Google Home will reportedly be priced at $129, which is $40 less than Amazon’s Echo and a match to Amazon’s lower-end Tap product. Google is also trying to one-up its competitor by offering customizable bases in different colors and materials to match the user’s style and décor. The company also hopes to be better at controlling other smart home devices, starting with Nest and Google Cast-enabled devices.

Competitors Abound

Amazon and Google are not the only companies battling for smart home device market share. Apple is moving forward with the development of its own smart home device based on the Siri voice assistant, transitioning the product from the R&D phase to prototyping. The release of the Amazon Echo was a surprise hit to Apple, which has been working on developing its product for more than 2 years. Apple is reportedly attempting to differentiate itself from Echo and Home with more advanced microphone and speaker technology. If and when Apple makes it to market with this product, it could potentially have an advantage due to the company’s investment in the Apple HomeKit. HomeKit already has a network of third-party connected smart home devices controllable through Siri, though the product has received less-than-favorable reviews and does not appear to have gained much traction in the market since its launch.

With big name players like Amazon, Google, and Apple vying to lead the smart home device market, the winner will be determined by factors such as interoperability with other devices, the user experience, and basic functionality (i.e., how well does the product actually respond to a user’s voice?). The company that wins will be the one that meets these criteria most effectively. Amazon is already ahead of the game, but Google and Apple both have the potential to succeed. Regardless, competition among these three giants should be a win for consumers who are likely to see better products at more competitive prices.


Gauging Apple’s Smart Home Strategy

— September 27, 2016

Home Energy ManagementLike a circling hawk, Apple has been hovering above the smart home/Internet of Things (IoT) home marketplace, waiting for the right moment to pounce. That moment arrived when Apple released iOS 10 to the public early September 2016. The iOS 10 update includes a dedicated Home app, which is given prime screen real estate on the iPhone. It is a clear sign that Apple is ready to drop down to earth and fully engage, and even compete, in the emerging smart home market.

To be sure, Apple was not absent entirely from this particular marketplace prior to the update. The Cupertino, California-based company first announced its HomeKit platform more than 2 years ago. In the meantime, Apple has quietly waited for new compatible hardware products to become available so the platform could flourish. Currently, several dozen HomeKit-friendly devices are on sale, such as the ecobee3 smart thermostat, a smart lock from August, and Philips Hue wireless light bulbs. Apple expects nearly 100 more similar products from multiple vendors to come out before year’s end, which would further extend its ecosystem.

The essence of Apple’s Home app is its ability to integrate disparate devices in a single application, and do so in quintessential Apple fashion with an easily understood interface that hides complexity in the background. No longer does a user need to juggle several third-party apps to control devices. Instead these can be managed with just one app, as long as the device has the required works-with-Apple seal of approval. This is par for the course for the company that likes to maintain a proprietary world. However, a wireless thermostat or smart plug not part of Apple’s realm would have to be manipulated with a different application.

Apple’s Home App

Apple Home

(Source: Apple)

Amazon Echo’s Smart Home Skills

Alexa home

(Source: Amazon)

Much has changed since HomeKit’s unveiling. Competitors have seized the opportunity to forge ahead, Amazon in particular. The online retail giant has scored a hit with its voice-controlled Echo device, which can connect easily with many of the same devices (e.g., Philips Hue bulbs and ecobee3 smart thermostats) that work with Apple’s Home app. Moreover, Alphabet-Google is about to launch its voice-activated Google Home device to compete directly with Echo. Formidable competitors have taken some market and mind-share ahead of Apple, and the market for smart home/IoT functionality will be intense.

Early Market

Still, there is an upside for Apple. The market is early-stage, and millions of customers have yet to buy products or use connected-home devices. Competitors have helped pave the way and validate a market that has been elusive for many years, primarily targeting people with the money to pay for expensive devices and professional installers, or do-it-yourself geeks willing to fiddle with complex devices and systems. Mainstream adoption appears to be just around the corner.

Savvy energy market stakeholders are paying attention to all of this. Devices and applications that residential and commercial customers adopt can have an important effect on lives and businesses. Witness the growth of bring-your-own thermostat programs offered by utilities (see Navigant Research’s Bring Your Own Thermostat Demand Response report). Utilities need to stay current with what customers are doing behind the meter to automate premises and help them use energy more efficiently. It is a smart strategy for customer engagement, since disregarding trends is risky in a world where Silicon Valley heavyweights and disrupters see ways to leverage a transforming energy market (see Navigant’s Navigating the Energy Transformation white paper). Apple is not the only bird in the sky seeking new markets and growing revenue opportunities.


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