Observations from oneM2M Showcase

I was at the oneM2M Showcase event in Sophia Antipolis, southern France, this week. It was something of a release party for oneM2M – a standards body dedicated to M2M and IoT, set up in 2012 – including the first set of demos that the involved companies have come up with. It was a productive visit, since it allowed me to get a fairly good hunch of what oneM2M is actually trying to achieve and what the leadership's priorities are. If you would like to view the slides of my keynote – or any other presentation – you can get them from here. Mine is the document 1, but I must concede that the interesting stuff is in the others.

For the time being, the work that is being done under oneM2M deals namely with the standards related to connectivity and device management. The goal is to build an abstracted service layer that permits various existing protocols to interoperate with each other – instead of creating whole new protocols to replace the existing ones, which would be a fool's errand. For example, the first specifications cover HTTP, CoAP, and MQTT for connectivity, and OMA and BBF for device management. In future releases, the group has plans to address also areas such as application enablement, big data, and security, but for the time being the priority is clearly in the said two domains. If you require further analysis of where they fit in the slightly convoluted platform continuum then, hey presto, we've got plenty

So what does this all mean in practice? Quite simply, the big idea is to unify available platforms through the service layer and thus achieve a greater operational scale for IoT deployments. So if Company A runs a fleet of trucks and Company B runs a fleet of container ships then their mutual customer, Company C, can use one application to track the cargo, regardless of the handler. Meanwhile, Company C’s own customer Company D can manage its supply chain with less hassle and more actionable insight, as the described branch of its logistics integrates nicely with another one consisting of other similar, alphabetically named firms. It’s nothing that can’t be done already today, but due to differing technologies and protocols pulling it off requires more internal staff, system integrators, and custom software than in the envisioned scenario.

By streamlining some of that interoperability work, the oneM2M service layer would make such supply-chain management applications cheaper to build and maintain, which in turn would make them accessible to smaller companies, lead to more advanced application features, and so forth. The use case I invented is obviously just one example of how the benefits of standardisation would look like in the real world. It would take us one step closer to the vision of a more horizontal IoT that spans several industries.

So that’s the idea. I find it ambitious but credible, providing that the working groups won't over-reach in the upcoming releases. In the following I've got a couple of additional observations from the event:

First, an important aspect that oneM2M deserves credit for is the way it emphasises developers as a critical group of stakeholders. As I’ve been complaining in the past, the main problem that the old-school, telco-centric M2M players always had was their outdated, top-down notion of innovation. As a consortium oneM2M seems to still consist mainly of telcos and vendors that sell to them, but at least if the discussions at this event indicated anything it is also benefiting from more progressive thinking amongst them.

Second, oneM2M’s relationship with AllSeen Alliance appears to be largely complementary, with the two parties currently discussing interworking. OneM2M focuses on the edge-to-cloud side of connectivity, whereas AllSeen’s framework facilitates device-to-device interoperability, and while I don’t find it unthinkable that they could start overlapping in the future that isn’t really a near-term concern for either of them. What both need now is execution and commercial uptake.

Third, oneM2M is a global effort, but I believe that its impact may be significantly higher in some regions and countries than in some others. As you can see from the presentations 4 and 5 on the site, e.g. SK Telecom and China Mobile have in place very extensive IoT strategies, and there is a decent chance that the active involvement from them, and other similarly positioned operators, in oneM2M will decisively accelerate its adoption in Asia. This may well surprise observers who follow the industry through an overly American or European lens.