Amazon, Google, Apple, and the Zigbee Alliance Create Open Standard for Smart Home DevicesDecember 23, 2019 by Gary Elinoff
With an emphasis on security, the working group is creating a royalty-free connectivity standard among smart home products.
Several of the largest companies offering smart devices—including Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance—have created a working group called project Connected Home over IP.
Connected Home over IP is a royalty-free connectivity standard that will universally apply to a number of smart devices from various providers. The four major players plan to make security a centerpiece of the project.
The working group creates a unified ecosystem across major smart home technologies. Image used courtesy of Akarat Phasura
The project will facilitate communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services while defining "a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification."
As such, the companies state that compliant devices must support at least one (but not necessarily all) technology to be compatible.
With an open-source approach, the working group plans to leverage existing smart home technologies including Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home, Apple’s HomeKit, Google’s Weave, and Zigbee Alliance’s Dotdot data models to push the protocol to market faster.
Creating a Compatible Standard
In the past, the lack of a stable backplane has hampered the development of the smart home system.
As it stands today, smart home devices can only function in their own mutually exclusive ecosystems.
Once the consumer has chosen a smart home ecosystem, it is not possible to readily incorporate a device from a separate “universe.”
But all that may be about to change.
ecobee4, one of Amazon's smart home devices, is designed to build "a Whole Home Voice future." Image used courtesy of Amazon
Now, with the new unified ecosystem, if a consumer has based their own smart home on, say, Amazon Alexa, but one of Apple's Siri-modulated devices catches the homeowner’s fancy, the Apple device can be effortlessly incorporated into the formerly all-Amazon system.
The project will not, however, standardize smart home interfaces.
The Open-source Approach
The project will start with components and technologies from Amazon, Apple, Google, the Zigbee Alliance, and others.
Because the project is built on existing technology, developers currently working on upcoming smart home devices will not need to modify their designs for the new standard.
Participating companies. Image used courtesy of Connected Home over IP
From there, the working group will copy and modify (as needed) open-source code from GitHub into the Connected Home over IP.
The open-source element—in addition to device specification—will allow developers to prototype and test architecture in new designs. Developers can then use the same code from the project as they see fit.
Building on IP
Because the goal of the project is to build a universal connectivity standard, focusing on IP—the bedrock of the internet—is an obvious choice.
Engineers are intimately familiar with IP. There are pantheons of manufacturers worldwide who offer tiny, inexpensive ICs to access the physical layers of the IP, so a huge, fundamental design effort is obviated.
Google Nest products. Image (modified) used courtesy of Google
By embracing the IP, the four major players in this project have selected a solid foundation on which to build their new connectivity standard.
And with increased network security as a primary goal, the working group will also gain access to a host of security methodologies developed for the IP.
The project's first step is to implement internet protocols; specifically, the working group plans to implement Wi-Fi and IP for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)—the protocols by which most smart-home installations communicate.
The project will also factor in Ethernet, cellular, and broadband early on the agenda.
An Industry-wide Invitation
The goal of Project Connected Home over IP is to make it easier for manufacturers to build compatible smart home devices for consumers.
The four original members invite manufacturers, silicon providers, and developers from across the industry to receive updates—and better yet, to participate in the project.