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Tech heavyweights join Zigbee in launching open source smart home consortium

Dec 19, 2019 — by Eric Brown 1,915 views

Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance have formed a “Connected Home over IP” group to develop an open source smart home connectivity standard. Meanwhile Silicon Labs plans to relaunch its Z-Wave spec as a “ratified, multi-source wireless standard” open to all silicon and stack vendors for development.

Three of the leading smart home device vendors have joined up with the Zigbee Alliance to launch a royalty-free, IP-based home automation connectivity standard. The Project Connected Home over IP working group will develop open source reference implementations for the standard posted on GitHub, followed by a device certification program.

Project Connected Home over IP leaders Amazon, Apple, and Google, which are also among the world’s leading tech giants and personal information harvesters, have also signed up some major Zigbee Alliance members. The board includes IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian.


Despite the Zigbee connection, this is not an update to the low-power, 802.15.4-based Zigbee wireless standard, which competes primarily with Z-Wave in the mesh networking home automation space. Silicon Labs is not only a member of the new Connected Home over IP project, but is also the owner of the Z-Wave Alliance. Today Silicon Labs announced that the Z-Wave Alliance was further opening Z-Wave as a “ratified, multi-source wireless standard available to all silicon and stack vendors for development.” (See farther below.)

Project Connected Home over IP members
(click image to enlarge)

Project Connected Home over IP’s initial IP-based networking spec, due in late 2020, will build on WiFi up through 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (WiFi 6). This will be followed by a spec based on Thread (802.15.4-2006), which offers mesh networking at 2.4GHz and then Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 4.1, 4.2, and 5.0. In the future, the spec “will likely also embrace other IP-bearing technologies like Ethernet, Cellular, Broadband, and others,” says the project.

Project Connected Home over IP aims to make smart home devices more “secure, reliable, and seamless to use” while enabling “communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services.” Security is a central focus along with compatibility with voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, “and others.”

The spec will draw on development work and protocols from existing technologies, including Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home, Apple HomeKit, Google’s peer-to-peer Weave, and the Zigbee Alliance’s Dotdot. The IPv6 based Dotdot is a collaboration project to create a “common language at the application layer” between Zigbee and Google’s Weave-related Thread, which like Zigbee, is built around IEEE 802.15.4. Dotdot was released as Dotdot 1.0 back in February.

The Connected Home over IP standard aims to wean device vendors away from proprietary protocols, which “require them to be tethered to a home network using dedicated proxies and translators,” says the group. The device certification process will be lenient, however, in that “compliant devices must implement at least one supported technology and not necessarily all,” says the project.

The spec may eventually “include a proposed standard for lifecycle events such as provisioning/onboarding, removal, error recovery, and software update.” There are no plans for standardized UIs, however. No OS support was listed, so this is presumably a cross-platform standard. Most home automation hubs and many of the smarter devices that connect to them run on Linux.

Privacy issues

Although the group notes that IP is an ideal way to ensure security and privacy, there is no mention of standardization efforts around privacy. Many consumers are concerned that companies like Amazon and Google are listening in and recording personal conversations via Alexa and Assistant to improve their algorithms and sell marketing data.

Apple has made some solid steps toward privacy protections lately, and recently added a HomeKit Secure Video to its HomeKit automation hub via iOS 13. The new feature lets you store private, encrypted videos from HomeKit connected cameras in the cloud that can be securely viewed via an iPhone Home app.

Ionware’s iHome3 DIY Kit v1A (left) and earlier ionware sdk1
(click images to enlarge)

Alternative home automation solutions offer privacy assurances build around software projects such as the open source OpenHAB. Ionware, for example, recently launched a OpenHAB-based, $48.88 iHome3 DIY Kit v1A smart thermostat kit, which requires a bring-your-own Raspberry Pi 3 A or B+ series SBC. The kit is based on the board that drove Ionware’s now discontinued ionware sdk1 home automation controller add-on for the Raspberry Pi Zero.

Project Connected Home over IP joins a long list of home automation standards efforts and industry consortiums, many of which have faded away or never really got off the ground. Some are open source such as the Open Connectivity Foundation’s IoTivity, which followed the AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn spec before embracing it with bridging and plug-in support. You don’t hear much about IoTivity anymore, but it’s still chugging along. An Ubuntu-based IoTivity v2.0.5 was released in October, and there’s also a “Lite” version. Other open source projects include Mozilla’s Project Things, which builds upon the Web of Things project.

The Linux Foundation, meanwhile, is pushing its LF Edge projects such as Project Eve, EdgeX Foundry, and Akraino Edge Stack that focus more on top-down cloud-native IoT standards. So far, however, the focus has been more on industrial and telecom-related edge computing rather than the smart home, which is represented by LF Edge’s Samsung Home Edge project.

Silicon Labs opens up Z-Wave

In Oct. 2018, Z-Wave owner Silicon Labs launched a public developer site for the Z-Wave home automation wireless standard with public documentation, a public Z-Wave SDK, a Raspberry Pi image, and a forum. Earlier that year, Silicon Labs acquired the alliance from Sigma Designs for $240 million.

Today, Silicon Labs followed up on that modest opening of the proprietary, mesh networking enabled Z-Wave by announcing that the Z-Wave Specification will soon be a “ratified, multi-source wireless standard available to all silicon and stack vendors for development.” Although this would appear to fall short of an open source offering, the new Z-Wave will enable semiconductor and software companies to “join the Z-Wave ecosystem, contribute to future advancements of the leading smart home standard, and develop and supply sub-GHz Z-Wave radio devices and software stacks.”

Due to arrive in 2Q 2020, the newly “opened” Z-Wave spec will include the ITU.G9959 PHY/MAC radio spec, application layer, network layer, and host-device communication protocol. By “multi-source,” Silicon Labs means that the standard will be “developed by collective working group members of the Z-Wave Alliance.” (A Z-Wave Alliance version of the announcement may be found here.)

The Z-Wave Alliance and the ZigBee Alliance have been battling for years to push their respective mesh networking standards for the smart home. Since neither has been able to dominate the other, home automation device vendors typically support both standards. Z-Wave is now used in more than 100 million interoperable devices comprising more than 3,200 certified products from over 700 member companies, says Silicon Labs.

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One response to “Tech heavyweights join Zigbee in launching open source smart home consortium”

  1. Henk Hofstra says:

    Why use zigbee if you can use tcp? What os are you using currently for the RPI-3? I am testing Ubunbtu server 18.04, which looks promising. Have problems to get vnc working though I only get a grey screen after logging in? I am planning to use Mongodb a lot and for that I need a 64 bit os. How about VSCP and 64 bit os ?


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