UPnP, OIC, and Cable

Dec 9, 2015

On November 23, UPnP Forum announced that Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), one of the major standards efforts focused on the Internet of Things, would be acquiring the assets of UPnP forum. The news was generally lauded in the international press as one substantial step in reducing the disarray that is the Internet of Things. This sounds encouraging for IoT in general, but what does it mean for the cable industry?

First of all, it may be useful to review some history. Cable has a long relationship with UPnP Forum. CableLabs has actively participated on the steering committee of UPnP since 2004. UPnP management technologies have been included in cable gateways and set boxes for several years. More recently, the DLNA VidiPath technology (which is based on UPnP specifications) has been deployed by cable companies as a way to provide secure video streams over IP networks to certified video devices. UPnP technology is deployed throughout the cable system. It is, therefore, important that UPnP technologies be maintained as long as they are relevant in the cable industry.

The Benefits of OIC and UPnP Joining Forces

The merger between UPnP and OIC ensures that UPnP will be maintained and supported for as long as cable requires. A UPnP Working Group will be formed under OIC that will maintain and enhance the UPnP specifications and continue to provide certification. This is important for the cable industry because several cable products require UPnP certification. New features currently being developed in UPnP Forum will be completed under the same terms and conditions as current UPnP specifications.

Over the last couple of years, the UPnP Forum has focused about 80% of its efforts on the development of technologies for the Internet of Things. These include the design of a RESTful-based approach for integrating new IoT products. Rather than developing device definitions and defining interfaces as separate specifications (a process that takes several months), new device definitions can be developed using device data models and interface definitions using short RAML interface descriptions and JSON schema files. This process only takes a matter of minutes. Furthermore, such definitions are machine readable and can be used to generate other documents. The specifications themselves are generated from the RAML and JSON code rather than vice-versa. These definitions can also be used to generate code stubs and user interfaces in any language and on any operating system. This approach enable scaling of the Internet of Things and simplifies the development of new products. This may prove to be critical for service providers who intend to provide an IoT service.

UPnP Forum, under the guidance of CableLabs, has not only developed this process, it has created an online tool (called oneIoTa) that allows device definitions to be developed, curated and adopted by UPnP as well as other technologies. This tool is freely available to all UPnP members and, as part of the OIC agreement, will also be available to OIC members. Due to the cooperative relationship between UPnP and OIC since its inception, the data model format for both organizations is identical.

A task group will be formed within the UPnP Working Group in OIC to maintain and enhance the oneIoTa tool. The tool includes a back-end approval system that allows the submitted, crowd-sourced device data models to be approved by individual organizations. In addition to use by UPnP Forum and OIC, liaison relationships have been formed with a dozen or so other IoT organizations. They will be allowed to use the tool for their own data models. The tool has been specially designed so that models can be shared with conversion relationships between these organizations to ensure interoperability between the different ecosystems. CableLabs did the original XML to JSON conversion, and has seeded the oneIoTa tool with the initial device data models. This ensures that these models will work with CableLabs’ IoT interoperability solution and also means that all other UPnP and OIC devices will be based on the same initial models.

The other major architectural element that is common between UPnP and OIC is the approach to remote access. In this case, remote access refers to the usage of these shared technologies from any device, over any IP network, from any location. It means home devices can be accessed from any computer, tablet, smart phone or any other device connected to the Internet. This is done in a secure and scalable way using the common XMPP protocol. Incidentally, AllSeen (another major IoT technology) also adopted this strategy. XMPP allows for all of the OIC and UPnP features to be communicated over the Internet in a way that securely traverses firewalls. CableLabs created the first implementation of this model that shows interoperability between multiple ecosystems (AllSeen, UPnP and HUE). It is simple to understand the idea if you imagine a “chat room” where you can invite your devices as well as your friends and family. You can create virtual rooms for live communication, control of IoT devices, and control access. Since XMPP is the protocol that many chat services are based upon, it is widely available in both commercial and open source versions on most any operating system. It has also been is wide use on a massive scale for several years.

In developing the deal between OIC and UPnP Forum, all parties were careful to ensure that the billions of UPnP products already deployed would continue to be supported. Beyond that, the goal was to enhance both ecosystems ensuring that members are supported from both perspectives. UPnP implementer members will be able to continue to develop and certify UPnP products under the same terms as they always have as long as they continue to pay the annual implementer member fee. There are no changes under this option. Another option is also available. If implementer members choose to sign the OIC membership agreement, they will continue to have the privileges they currently enjoy under UPnP, and will also be able to certify OIC devices. They will also get one free year of OIC gold membership. After that, they can continue their gold membership by paying the annual OIC gold member ship fee (actually less than half the current UPnP Implementer member fee).

The UPnP specifications will continue to be open as will the OIC specifications. There is also an open source project (IoTivity that is open to all, will provide a certified implementation of OIC, and will integrate UPnP into the OIC system. In other words, all UPnP products will continue to be supported and will also be made compatible with the emerging OIC ecosystem. Further compatibility will be enabled through the use of the common data model and the oneIoTa tool that will enable this interoperability.

How the Cable Industry will Benefit

CableLabs has been a major contributor to the development of both UPnP and OIC standards and was instrumental in developing a solution at DLNA that leverages UPnP. The merger of UPnP and OIC will enhance these technologies, and OIC, into a system that enables cable operators the offer a coherent and simplified Internet of Things service to cable customers. Using a common data model, a RESTful interface, and a common way to control all of this regardless of device or manufacturer can provide a compelling service that will delight customers and can be efficiently managed by operators.