LAS VEGAS – Jan Brockmann, the chief technology officer at AB Electrolux, one of the world's largest appliance makers, is on a mission at the International CES trade show to help shape the future of the Internet of Things.
Electrolux operates 45 factories and has many brands, including Frigidaire, Eureka and Kelvinator. Brockmann believes the Internet of Things (IoT) is critical to his company. He wants the big IT vendors to cooperate on IoT protocols and allow his company's appliances to freely communicate with a wide range of products.
"I want them to talk and sort out their problems," said Brockmann, whose company is a member of the Linux Foundation's AllSeen Alliance IoT protocol effort. These protocols allow devices to discover one another and connect device-to-device, creating an Internet of Things.
Brockmann is working to persuade other major vendors at CES to join the AllSeen effort, which he believes has the most momentum behind it.
The AllSeen Alliance has more than 100 members, including LG Electronics and Panasonic, as well as Microsoft's plan to include support for this open source project in Windows 10.
Streaming music services are also using the protocols, known as AllJoyn. This allows, for instance, Spotify, LG TVs and Panasonic speakers to all work together. Notifications of songs playing, for example, can be shown on an LG TV as the music is streamed over the Panasonic speakers. These companies have AllJoyn-supported products at CES. Other major consumer electronics companies that are members of AllSeen include Sony and Sharp.
This isn't the only open source IoT effort with a presence in Las Vegas. The Open Interconnect Consortium, launched in June, and backed by Intel and Samsung, has a competing IoT application protocol. It will officially announce its open source project, IoTivity, next week. Apple also has an upcoming IoT platform called HomeKit.
IoT capability has tremendous importance to Electrolux, Brockmann said. Take ovens, for instance. The appliance maker will be putting cameras inside ovens so a cook can check on how the roast chicken is progressing. In a true IoT world, the image of a browning roast ought to be viewable on any device, including TVs. But it won't happen if electronics vendors don't agree on protocols.
By connecting products, the appliance maker can establish a lifelong relationship with the consumers, send recipes, deliver preventive maintenance, and offer information about new products, Brockmann said. This also ripples through Electrolux's IT organization, changing its priorities, and putting more emphasis on big data and CRM.
If there is no agreement on IoT enablement among the vendors, "then this business will not take off," Brockmann said.
In sum, this represents a battle of big vendors with implications for any manufacturer and application developer who wants interoperability in an IoT environment. The conflict creates opportunities for developers to bridge protocol differences to achieve some level of interoperability.
But Philip DesAutels, senior director of IoT for the AllSeen Alliance, said bridging protocol differences is similar to translating a phrase in English to French and then translating the French back to English. The end result "doesn't sound like the letter you wrote in English. APIs are the same way. Things just don't fully map," he said.
DesAutels wants the competing groups to come together, "and think about this in a unified way, because something always gets lost in translation."
A meeting between the rival groups ought to have been easy this week, but none was planned. On Tuesday, DesAutels was on a CES trade show floor at the Sands, and officials from the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) were a short cab ride away in a Bellagio suite being used for demos. The groups says they do communicate, mostly through their members.
David McCall, an Intel employee and senior strategic planner at the OIC, bristles at the idea that this is a vendor turf war, and describes substantive differences in approaches.
For instance, the OIC is using the open source license Apache 2.0, which allows for patent protection, he said. AllSeen is using the ISC (Internet Software Consortium) license, which McCall said won't satisfy the legal requirements of many companies. "You need to deal with the world as it is," he said.
The OIC also wants a system that allows more flexibility by specific verticals that may want their own protocol implementations.
Ultimately, McCall said there will be one solution for IoT protocols, which is not unlike what DesAutels believes.
But there is no universal applications protocol for the IoT, and that is why Brockmann is talking to other vendors at CES about AllSeen. Because in the end, the protocol with the most vendor backing is probably the one that will win.