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July 1, 2015

Working Toward Universal Interoperability in IoT

Today’s Internet of Things landscape is a modern day Tower of Babel – a proliferation of communication protocols and data formats across the device ecosystem that make it difficult for devices to “speak the same language” and work together in harmony. This reality makes it difficult for us to realize the full potential of IoT.

Imagine how much less useful your mobile phone would be, for example, if it only worked with other phones from the same carrier. Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe once postulated that the value of any communication network is proportional to the square of the number of participants.

We’ll only realize the full value of IoT when all devices are able to participate in the same network, and our belief is that the best way to bring about this reality is through a community of industry stakeholders participating in an open, standards-based approach. No single company or consortium can deliver a complete solution and nobody wants to limit their choices to some particular walled-garden ecosystem. It’s imperative that companies and industry groups work together to deliver interoperable solutions that layer, connect, and complement one another.

Our participation in the AllSeen Alliance and AllJoyn support in Windows 10 was a significant step in this journey. AllJoyn is an open source software framework and set of services to enable interoperability among connected devices to create dynamic proximal networks. While AllJoyn addresses device discovery, interrogation, notification, and capabilities invocation in an open way, it doesn’t address interoperability at the network physical layer.

IoT devices need to be quick and easy to set up and then they just need to work; seamlessly connecting to your other devices and fading into the background of our daily lives, as they do their thing.  To achieve these goals, IoT devices need communications that are robust, reliable, and secure.  They need a communication infrastructure that has no single point of failure, one that is power efficient, and that doesn’t place an administrative burden on the network owner.  This is a vision shared by both Microsoft and the founders of the Thread Group, and that is why Microsoft has joined Thread alongside more than 100 other member organizations to advance interoperability and communication between IoT devices.

Thread is a communication layer that provides secure and efficient packet delivery using industry-standard protocols. Thread builds a resilient mesh network that can transport many different protocols and application standards. As such it will complement Microsoft’s existing implementation of the AllJoyn framework.  AllJoyn allows devices to autonomously discover and interact with nearby products regardless of their underlying communications protocols, which dovetails neatly with Thread, where Thread provides a robust and reliable mesh over which AllJoyn will be able to communicate using TCP or UDP.

Thread is designed to work over standard 802.15.4 radios and its native use of IPv6 means it can easily route messages to WiFi networks and the broader Internet. This simplifies how IoT devices in a Thread mesh network can interact with cloud services, such as the Microsoft Azure IoT services, to lower TCO and provide significantly greater value in commercial IoT deployments.

We look forward to working with Thread Group and its members to develop compelling technologies that deliver interoperable, secure and robust communications for the expanding world of IoT devices.