AllSeen Alliance: What is the 'Internet of Things'?

For developers, Christmas has come early: Qualcomm gifted its device-compatibility software to a consortium of more than 20 tech companies, paving the way for a future where your garage door can talk to your car.

Albert Gea/Reuters/File
A man walks past a Qualcomm advertising logo at the Mobile World Congress at Barcelona in February 2013.

Soon, your refrigerator could be talking to your cellphone, while your furnace listens in.

More than 20 tech companies have signed up to the AllSeen Alliance in hopes of putting wheels to the ground on the “Internet of Things.” The initiative has taken hold after Qualcomm signed over the source code for its AllJoyn protocol to the Linux Foundation, which allows these companies to begin building compatible machines and software. However, some say that despite the rollout, AllJoyn will have a ways to go before joining the majority of homes.

If the “Internet of Things” sounds familiar, that’s because this isn’t the first time it’s been suggested. Chipmaker Qualcomm originally conceived of the idea a decade ago, during which time it has developed AllJoyn, a networking system that could work on top of existing software in order to make different companies’ devices compatible. On Tuesday, however, Qualcomm released its work to the Linux Foundation in order to allow companies to start making their devices compatible. Companies have already signed up, including LG, Sharp, Panasonic, Cisco, and HTC.

So what would a connected house look like? Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlinis is pitching participation in AllJoyn on the basis of a simple weekend inconvenience: Who plays their music at a party? Today, music is often stored on conflicting devices, in different formats, and even in the cloud, which can make it difficult to play on wireless speakers. He tells PCWorld that by creating devices and software that are compatible, sharing music is easy regardless of the brand.

And that is just the beginning. Houses could detect that no one is home and shut off heat to save money on energy bills. Garages could monitor how close a car is to returning home and open when a car turns into a driveway. LG has already announced plans to release a smart, open-source TV next year.

However, the road to a smarter house may have a few hurdles. ZDNet reporter Larry Dignan says the consortium lacks heavy-hitters in the enterprise industry, which could hurt widespread rollout.

“Here's the deal: Internet of things connections---sensors dishing out data on everything from maintenance needs to environmental conditions---goes well beyond the connected home," he says. "Industries will be where most of the returns of the Internet of things lies.”

Mr. Dignan suggests that big players such as IBM, Oracle, and SAP need to get involved before it has mass appeal.

In this new iteration of AllJoyn, AllSee Alliance will own the code, but plans to leave it open source. The framework will run on platforms such as Linux, Android, iOS, and Windows. Developers can download code information to start working on APIs from the AllSeen Alliance website. AllSeen Alliance says the connection will come from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and even wired Ethernet connections.

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