It’s not the news we were looking for, but on Wednesday the Zigbee Alliance said that it had created a separate working group for the Project Connected Home over IP standard designed for commercial buildings. More than 50 companies have committed to participating in an effort to build a standard that helps connected devices from different vendors interoperate in offices, apartments, and other commercial spaces. This is an ambitious move for CHIP, and it means that one day we could transition from work to home and have a way to bring out preferences and routines with us.
It also begs the question of how long we’ll see Project CHIP stay under the umbrella of the Zigbee Alliance. Zigbee is a useful, but limited standard that is primarily used for lighting. Project CHIP will unite locks, light bulbs, kitchen items, smart speakers, TVs, and more. If it also spans the commercial and residential markets, it will become a household name, which means it will need a new standards organization of its own, or that it will take over the Zigbee Alliance.
For those who may not recall, Project CHIP is an effort launched last year by big names in the industry such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung, and others to build a standard way for smart home devices to talk to each other. The details of the year’s worth of work aren’t clear yet, but we’ve seen the companies involved showing off unified ways to get a smart device on the network and to share information about its state without needing an integration. Because CHIP is a standard that will operate at the application layer, it will work with a variety of radios including Thread, Zigbee, and Bluetooth.
In events held earlier this year representatives from involved companies talked about the benefits of CHIP specifically tied to buildings, because having something dependable means devices using the standards could be built in from the beginning. A homeowner wouldn’t have to rip out a thermostat if they moved in and wanted it to work with Alexa instead of Apple for example.
This lack of standardization has plagued the smart home for years and slowed the adoption of connected products because consumers didn’t want to get stuck in a specific ecosystem. This is why it’s a big deal, and why so many companies are eager to see what the standard will look like.
Expanding CHIP to the commercial space doesn’t come as a surprise. As we embed more smarts in our home, we’re also embedding them into offices and other spaces to manage HVAC systems, lighting, and other features that will help building operators save money, understand how people use the space, and conserve energy. Members participating in the working group include access control companies such as Allegion and Latch; building systems companies such as Schneider Electric and Qorvo, and lighting companies such as Signify and Osram.
The working group aims to figure out the use cases that CHIP could support, determine what new features the standard might need to better align with commercial interests, and get other companies involved.