Apple, Google, and Amazon said that they are working to create a smart home standard that will operate through the Zigbee Alliance. The standard will be called Connected Home over IP and Google says it will contribute its Weave and Thread protocols to the effort. The Connected Home over IP page suggests some of Apple’s HomeKit tech, Amazon’s Alexa efforts and Zigbee’s Dotdot efforts will become part of the standard.
The goal is to have some version of the standard to share by late 2020 with a focus on voice assistant services at first:
The Project aims to make it easier for developers to build a device that is compatible with smart home services such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and others. This may include a proposed standard for lifecycle events such as provisioning/onboarding, removal, error recovery, and software update.
Such an effort is necessary if we ever want the smart home to move beyond one-off integrations, and my hunch is that these three players have realized that if they want this industry to grow it’s time to make it easier for consumers as well.
By setting the protocol that will act as a backbone for the home, the organizing companies can enshrine certain architectures and policies. This, of course, supposes that others accept and use the standard. So what are the likely policies that the three biggest players in the smart home going for?
As you can tell from the new name, this is is an IP protocol that will operate directly with objects in the home and allow them to speak directly out to the internet. Many of the older, mesh networked home protocols such as Zigbee and Z-wave are not IP-based and require a hub to talk directly to the internet. Google had pushed for this in when it built the Thread protocol, which was a low-power radio technology built on the same radio as Zigbee but with different features. The Thread protocol was built to allow battery-powered devices to talk to hubs in the home, much like today’s devices communicate with Google Homes and Alexa speakers. Thread has since been open-sourced.
Weave is a bit more complex and requires more computing power. Weave and the Dotdot protocols are software that runs on a hub and sets a standard for what type of devices there are in a home, what they can do and what they should be allowed to do. Much like in Iotivity, the other IoT standard promulgated by Intel and The Open Connectivity Foundation, Weave, and Dotdot tries to create a common language for a light bulb, a door lock, etc. that lets other devices have a basic understanding of what those devices do and how to interact with them.
Essentially whatever other protocol the working group builds could become an open and interoperable way of the types of schemes that Google, Apple, and Amazon force developers to build so their respective assistants can turn on a bulb with a voice command. Weave also lets devices hop from one network to another via the hub, something Google’s Grant Erickson pointed out in the Google blog post on the announcement.
Will this work? Well, it certainly explains why we’ve seen Amazon, IKEA and others join the board of the Zigbee Alliance over the recent months. So far the effort has attracted the big three in Amazon, Google and Apple. Additionally, IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (which makes Philips Hue lights), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian are also on board to join the Working Group and contribute to the project.
So far, the Zigbee Alliance has published an FAQ that answers some of the biggest questions including an assurance that existing smart home devices will continue to work. However, the focus of the new working group will be to create new products, which means we may be buying all new gear in the not-too-distant future. They also talk about running the protocol over different radios including Bluetooth. This means that devices with the right memory and radios should be able to handle an update to the new protocol when it’s available.
There’s more to unpack here so stay tuned as we dive in tomorrow’s podcast and the newsletter coming out on Friday.
– Additional content provided by Kevin C. Tofel