Standards wars are nothing new in the world of tech. Think of VHS vs. Betamax, HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray, WiMAX vs. LTE, and so on. Everyone wants to own the "standard" in hopes of owning the resulting market.
Which of course makes sense when you look at history. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) set the standards by which most mobile phones communicate and now earns royalties on nearly every handset sold. In 2013, licensing accounted for $7.9 billion, or 30%, of consolidated revenues. No one's going to loosen Qualcomm's grip on the market at this point.
For The Internet of Things, the fight to name a standard-bearer is just getting under way. And like the HBO series of the same name, this "game of thrones" involves different companies with different agendas. Several you know just teamed up to form the Open Internet Consortium, including Dell, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), and Samsung.
What they're after
Intel appears to be leading the effort. In an interview with Computerworld, two of the chipmaker's executives said that the three companies plan to develop guidelines for discovering, connecting to, and securing devices across the Internet of Things. The idea? Figure workarounds for seamlessly exchanging data between devices that use different OSes, data transport techniques, and the like.
Which isn't at all surprising when you consider that Intel has spent years and billions making chips for connecting PCs to wireless networks. Taking that same technology to the Internet of Things is a smart next step, and could result in billions in new revenue if predictions about the vastness of the Internet of Things are any indicator. One estimate pegs the number of connected devices rising to 50 billion by 2020.
If only it were that simple ...
Competitors may not be so willing to concede the market, however. In December, Qualcomm teamed with about two dozen companies to form the AllSeen Alliance. The goal is roughly the same sorts of interoperability the OIC promises, the key difference being that Qualcomm's AllJoyn open source communications technology serves as the framework for connecting devices.
"Products, applications and services created with the AllJoyn open source project can communicate over various transport layers, such as Wi-Fi, power line or Ethernet, regardless of manufacturer or operating system and without the need for Internet access," the Alliance claimed in its launch press release.
Foolish final thoughts
If history serves -- and it usually does -- these groups will spend years sparring over which standard is better, serves users' interests, and so on. That's not ideal for the development of the Internet of Things, but it also isn't a disaster. Rather, I suspect that we'll see Intel, Qualcomm, and their partners come to some sort of accord for the good of the industry. When they do, it'll be good for owners of both stocks.