AT&T exec: IoT standards groups need to work together

The different groups working on standards to connect devices to each other as part of the Internet of Things will eventually need to work together or the industry will need to decide on a select few, according to an AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) senior executive.

In an interview with FierceWireless at an AT&T event in New York City Wednesday evening, Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T's Emerging Devices division, said that there is a "fear" that the competing standards will make it more difficult for devices to talk to each other as more gadgets inside and outside the home get wireless connectivity built into them.

"Everyone is jockeying to see which standard will be it, and there's lot of different bets being placed," he said.

The Open Interconnect Consortium, which was launched last week by Intel, Samsung Electronics, Broadcom and other companies, is working to create a new standard for device-to-device connectivity. That group is competing with the AllSeen Alliance, which uses an open-source implementation of Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) AllJoyn framework to connect devices to one another regardless of their underlying proprietary technology or communications protocols. Meanwhile, Samsung also recently teamed up with Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Nest Labs, ARM Holdings and others to create a new mesh wireless standard for the IoT market called Thread.

AT&T's Digital Life home-automation and -security business is an AllSeen member, and AT&T, Cisco Systems, General Electric, IBM and Intel are also members of another group, the Industrial Internet Consortium, which is working on standards for connected industrial machines.

Ultimately, Penrose said, the goal needs to be to ensure that consumers can have seamless experiences with their connected devices. There are questions that need to be answered in order to make that happen, he said. "What are the things you need?" he said. "What type of connectivity do you need in each device? Do you need wide-area or do not? And then what is going to be the most efficient, cost-effective, seamless way to be able to integrate these things together?"

He added: "There's lots of good standards, but ultimately one will begin to emerge. Right now we're still in the shake-out period."  

Penrose said that the different standards groups will eventually need to come together or the industry will need to pick winners. "They're either going to have to work together or there will be a coalescing around a couple that then all device makers will end up putting a couple of different standards in," he said. Penrose noted that Digital Life supports multiple protocols, including Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth and LTE.

Penrose said AT&T has not decided whether to join the Intel- and Samsung-led Open Interconnect Consortium. "We're involved in a lot of different standards groups," he said. "We're going to watch and understand what are they trying to accomplish vs. what else is out there, and we'll make that decision."

Earlier this week, executives from Qualcomm and Intel said that the IoT ecosystem would benefit from having one standard and one platform. At the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, Intel President Renee James said that even though the OIC has the same goal as Qualcomm's AllSeen Alliance, the two groups are approaching IoT differently. "We come from different points of view, but we need to make it work," she said.

Although Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm Interactive Platforms and senior vice president of Qualcomm Technologies, was not on stage with James, he was prompted to respond to her remarks. "I hope at some point we can merge the two alliances," he said. "I don't think it's great for the industry to have multiple approaches."

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