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Advertisers eye collaboration as tonic to internet of things standardisation

Advertisers and service providers are joining forces to standardise the complex landscape that is the internet of things (IoT) as they shift focus from whether services are technologically possible to whether it is technologically meaningful.

General Motors, Samsung, Philips and Electrolux are keen to see progress from a marketing mindset that was recently identified as the most over-hyped technology in development by research firm Gartner. They said the concept was at the “peak of inflated expectations,” but all that could be about to change.

A key trend from this year’s CES sees advertisers opening up to developers in the hope of making notable progress in security and privacy protocols that they can agree on with their peers. While associations, standards bodies and governments are tackling the standards issue worldwide, it is being done so in such a fragmented manner that brands are taking the lead to try and accelerate the commercialisation of the IoT.

Speaking at Samsung's CES Keynote session earlier this week (5 January), chief executive (CEO) Boo-Keun-Yoon, said: “I’ve heard people say they want to create a single operating system for the Internet of Things, but these people only work with their own devices. We can deliver the benefits of the internet of things only if all sensors can talk to each other."

Car makers are the forefront of this shift, realising that relinquishing some control over their closely guarded connected car platforms may ultimately elevate the customer experience. General Motors chief infotainment officer Phil Abram acknowledged the pivotal role that companies such as telecommunications supplier Qualcomm and start-ups had in ensuring the cars of the future interact seamlessly with other devices.

Speaking on the "How Mobile is Fundamentally Changing Our World" panel yesterday (6 January), he added: “Our challenge is to find a layer of abstraction so that technology that moves at a faster rate [compared to car development] can be iterated on without causing a re-evaluation of the core operation of the car”.

“We’re never going to turn the car into a smartphone. Our purpose is to move you and your belongings from here to there. Now we can do that by creating a platform, like what we’ve done with Qualcomm on the 4G LTE structure – a modem module fitted to cars - that serves as a communications platform for us to build new services from over a longer period.”

Steve Mollenkoff CEO of Qualcomm echoed the sentiment and said the “Internet of Things” space was lacking the“handful of companies” in the mobile industry that can perform “large amount of R&D” before sharing the learnings through standards bodies.

“The approach we’ve taken is to support the use of technologies and reduce the barrier for people to innovate. It’s what’s required to get things to work and then you can figure out how to connect all those ecosystems together. We try to make the decision that it's not about the individual ecosystem and more about how to drive the ability for the industry to grow in these areas.

"After the industry is established then you can try to figure out how you cut up the profits. That’s where we are in some of these new areas.”

Home connectivity is not one of those advanced areas in the connected space, lagging behind sectors such as automotive and health in communications standardisation. It is why Electrolux is pushing partnerships with start-ups and service providers this year in the hope of fostering a standardisation proposition around ease of use, safety, privacy and the interoperability of different devices.

Jan Brockmann, chief technology officer and senior vice president at Electrolux, who was also on the same panel, said: “In the past we’ve tried to connect everything and test it. We haven’t necessarily started with the right products or the consumer. Now in what’s happening is that we think from the consumer and emotional perspective and that’s a wider trend we see across sectors.  

“Mobile has paved the way for consumers to get used to connectivity in the home. The home is the last follower into the space after mobile, B2B services, health and automotive.

Electrolux envisages a future where the cooker can help its owner become a better chef or a fridge connects to a health device to advise on food choices. For this to happen, consumers need to be convinced their data is safe from misuse or theft as companies have failed to fully address the negative possibilities of peoples’ gadgets knowing so much about them.

Jeroen Tas, CEO of Philips’ health care business group, said certifications and regulations for the technologies, particularly in health, were key because data is vital to growth.

Data security issues, while a key concern, also pose an untapped business opportunity.

Qualcomm’s Mollenkoff predicted that companies would set up their own private secure networks, creating opportunities around privacy and security rather than “speeds and feeds”.

“You may be comfortable having the entire internet available from your laptop or smartphone but you’re probably less comfortable having people access your heart rate or the position of your body at any given time,” he added.  

“That will create opportunities for companies like us to invest in technology where things like privacy and robustness are big elements of innovation.

As companies double down on technology to get closer to consumers, standardisation is key to aligning their efforts around the customer.

Featured by The Drum