You could argue Apple and Google own the smartphone OS space, that Qualcomm dominates the mobile baseband market, and that Amazon.com is the king of online retail.
But the Internet of Things is a different story. The burgeoning sector is still determining its standards, let alone choosing winners.
To understand how the Internet of Things, or IoT, is infiltrating technology companies, let's take a quick look at who's doing what in the space.
The brains behind IoT
The semiconductor company Broadcom (UNKNOWN:BRCM.DL) just released a $20 software developer kit and device, packed with five sensors for IoT testing. The WICED device comes with Broadcom's BCM20737 chip, which the company hopes will become an integral part of the Internet of Things. The device includes an electric compass, barometer and altimeter, humidity and temperature sensors, and motion-sensing gyroscope and accelerometer.
Broadcom's BCM20737 chip supports Apple's iBeacon indoor location tracking technology, A4WP wireless charging, and has its own on-chip encryption and decryption security. Broadcom's efforts combine two important characteristics of IoT: small and inexpensive.
But chipmaker Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is making huge strides in IoT as well, and earned $539 million in Internet of Things revenue in Q2 2014, outpacing the company's $51 million in mobile revenue in the same quarter. Intel's new Quark processor and Edison board are a big part of the company's IoT plans.
Intel is using its chip know-how to create a smart city in San Jose, California, and earlier this year the company teamed up with other companies to launch the Industrial Internet Consortium, or IIC, to help create network and security standards for IoT.
Not to be outdone in the space, IBM (NYSE:IBM) recently took the lid off a new chip called TrueNorth, which is a brain-inspired microprocessor. One of the chip's creators, Dharmendra Modha, said, "It could become the silicon brain for the 'Internet of things," and change the entire mobile experience.
The U.S. government may agree. The Pentagon Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has spent $53 million on the TrueNorth project since 2008. IBM hopes TrueNorth will be a driving force in IoT processing, though it's likely the chip is still a few years away from commercialization.
While IBM, Broadcom, and Intel are quickly moving into IoT, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and others are moving forward as well, and there's still plenty of room for new leaders to spring up in IoT processing.
Making the connection
One of the biggest leaders in machine-to-machine communication, or M2M, is Sierra Wireless (NASDAQ:SWIR), a small-cap company that's helping usher in the Internet of Things. The company's 3G-connection module sits in Tesla's Model S sedan and helps the car connect to AT&T's network.
The modules can also be found in Nespresso's coffee makers, mobile hotspots for Sprint, mobile payment devices, and energy regulation systems. Though not many people have heard of the company, Sierra Wireless takes about 34% of all embedded cellular M2M business worldwide.
There's far more than embedded chips, sensors, and modules that keep IoT expanding though. General Electric (NYSE:GE) is one of the biggest proponents of what it calls the Industrial Internet, and the company is making big waves in the industry.
GE's Predix software monitors connected 'things' like plane engines, wind turbines, and medical devices to ensure the equipment is working properly and efficiently. The software taps into sensors and connectivity modules so companies can monitor usage, gather data and even let machines communicate problems before they appear.
GE says that if just 1% of aviation fuel is conserved from using Industrial Internet efficiencies then $15 billion is saved. Similarly, a 1% reduction in system inefficiencies for healthcare would result in $63 billion savings.
GE's not the only one looking to make its mark on IoT though. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) provides cloud data storage, smart city management, and IoT software management for oil and gas, mining, utilities, and transportation. Apart from its own projects, Cisco has also investing hundreds of millions of dollars into start-up companies focused on the Internet of Things.
The company is also part of Intel and GE's Industrial Internet Consortium, and predicts that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet.
A wide-open field
The above list of companies is just a small representation of the bigger IoT industry. Apple and Google are pushing the Internet of Things in their own way, mostly in home automation. But there's still plenty of room for more companies to join in, and standardization will likely fuel their adoption. Right now, IoT is a bit fragmented and not as secure as it should be. As it evolves, new companies will be able to add their expertise to the Internet of Things, and drive its expansion.
Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Cisco Systems, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Intel, Nvidia, Sierra Wireless, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, General Electric Company, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Intel, International Business Machines, Qualcomm, Sierra Wireless, and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.