The discussion and adoption of standards is probably one of the least exciting topics in the tech world, yet it continues to be extremely important and relevant for the industry at large. The hard truth of the matter is the long drawn out discussions, tedious process work, and subjugation of corporate (and sometimes personal) egos necessary to achieve standards really does make an important difference.
Part of the challenge with standards is there isn’t necessarily a single right way to do something—several approaches may be equally valid. Typically, the real driving cause for standards conflicts are bottom-line business driven: one company may have a clear interest in one direction because of research they’ve spent money on, while another may want to take a different approach in order to leverage some other products or technologies in which they have some kind of advantage.
Two of the more interesting standards battles currently brewing in the device-related world center around wireless charging and communications protocols for the Internet of Things (IoT). In the case of wireless charging, it’s the battle between the existing Qi standard from the Wireless Power Consortium and the upcoming A4WP Rezence standard, with the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) organization—which recently announced the intention to merge with A4WP—adding yet more color to the mix. For IoT, it’s the Qualcomm-driven AllSeen Alliance vs. the Intel-driven Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC).
In either case, you could make arguments about one side or the other being the leader or having the better technology but, at this point, there does not appear to be a clear front runner for either battle. This is unfortunate, of course, because it creates confusion in the marketplace and keeps some of these technologies from having the kind of impact that will make them meaningful to all of us.
Or, at least, it would seem that way. Interestingly however, in both cases, efforts are being made to let the standards co-exist. I’m starting to think this could become an increasingly common outcome for tech standards battles. Typically, as these standards battles drag out, a clear winner eventually emerges and the technologies designed to enable that winning standard become the de facto choice and the losing standards and their supporting technologies tend to fade away.[pullquote]Co-existence of competing standards can happen when some effort is made to either enable multiple technologies in a single component or to somehow encapsulate one technology into another.”[/pullquote]
Co-existence of competing standards can happen when some effort is made to either enable multiple technologies in a single component or to somehow encapsulate one technology into another. In the case of wireless charging, Broadcom made the wise decision to produce a wireless charging chip that could support multiple standards. Some of the first fruits of those efforts are on display in the new Samsung Galaxy S6, which supports both the Qi and PMA charging standards. Future versions of Broadcom’s chips (and some competitors) will add A4WP support as well, thereby letting device vendors support either their preferred choice or, more likely, a range of different standards for wireless charging.
In the IoT world, OIC has created a method for essentially translating, encapsulating and tunneling AllJoyn messages over an IOC connection—thereby (at least theoretically) allowing devices that support different standards to coexist and communicate on a single network.
Now it could be argued these co-existence mechanisms are nothing but compromises and they likely won’t work as well as full support of a single standard by everyone. That’s probably true. Nevertheless, any efforts made to be more inclusive of viable technology alternatives has to be seen in a positive light, in my view, because it ultimately translates to forward movement and avoids the large roadblocks technology standards battles often create.
Standards battles aren’t likely to go away any time soon, but applying the techniques used in these instances could make the headache and heartache they often cause a lot less severe. We can only hope.