Open-Source Smart Home Standard in the Works

Logos of affiliated companiesApple, Google, Amazon and the Zigbee Alliance announce plan.

By Rick Richardson

The smart home market is currently badly fragmented because each vendor has been focusing on creating a separate ecosystem with devices that are difficult or impossible to connect with those of their competitors.

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This situation may be about to end with the announcement of a new project called Project Connected Home over IP.

In a surprising move, Amazon, Apple and Google, along with the Zigbee Alliance, have announced a joint effort to define a new standard that would remove those barriers by increasing interoperability and simplifying development for smart device manufacturers. They will join Zigbee Alliance members such as IKEA, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric and Signify in contributing to a project that aims to increase trust and adoption of smart things.

The new project is essentially a way to certify that whatever smart device you buy will work with your existing home setup and connect with your smartphone or voice assistant of choice. In other words, it will allow smart things to speak a common language, so they know what the other devices do and how to interact with them, hopefully, governed by better, end-to-end security and privacy protections.

The success of this project hinges on the idea that if companies build their products to connect using internet protocol-based technologies, it will be easier for consumers to invest in building up mixed ecosystems that are "secure, reliable and seamless to use."

The companies involved will take an open-source approach, so each will bring some of their smart home technologies to the table so that a common protocol can be developed as quickly as possible with relatively lower costs. That includes Amazon's Alexa, Apple's HomeKit and Siri, Zigbee's Dotdot, and Google Weave and Thread.

Once that new standard is ready, it will work alongside existing connectivity standards such as Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth Low Energy. A logo on the boxes of smart things will make it easy for consumers to discern what devices are guaranteed to work with each other, and this should also make things easier for manufacturers who no longer need to worry about which standards to support. Similarly, developers will be able to follow a standard for "lifecycle events such as provisioning/onboarding, removal, error recovery, and software update."

Before you get too excited about the new development, keep in mind that a preliminary draft will be completed by the end of 2020, so we'll probably have to wait until at least 2021 to see this project bear fruit. And be ready to buy new smart things if you want these benefits, as existing ones won't necessarily be able to work with the new protocol.

The new industry group will initially focus on physical safety products like smart locks, gas sensors, smoke alarms, security cameras, smart electrical plugs, and thermostats. Then they'll move on to cover most other smart home and commercial devices.

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