home automation explained

Home automation: Apple, Google and dozens of companies agree on a standard

Those interested in home automation must have probably already made the observation. The development of this market tends to go in all directions. If you are not convinced, look at the abundance of communication protocols available: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave or ZigBee, to name but a few. This profusion is likely to discourage the general public. 

But this is expected to change in the coming years due to a union that is being established. On December 18, a working group was announced to “develop and promote the adoption of a new free connectivity standard to increase compatibility between home automation products.” That is, the smart house, full of connected objects of all kinds. 

Because that is the other side of the coin of this abundance of protocols: devices may not connect because they do not all speak the same language. A situation that a large part of the industry wants to correct. 

First version end 2020 

However, there is no question of replacing the current protocols – in order, in particular, not to make several devices already on the market obsolete. The working group states that the protocol “will complement existing technologies, and members of the working group encourage device manufacturers to continue to innovate using the technologies available today. 

On the technology side, the objective of the first version of the specification will be Wi-Fi, up to and including Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). The previous versions will also be supported (i.e. 802.11a/b/g/g/g/n/ac). It will all work in the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Besides, it is also mentioned the support of Bluetooth in low consumption (Low Energy) with versions 4.1, 4.2, and 5.0. 

One question remains: when will this protocol be there? Here, you will have to be patient: the first draft of the specification is not expected before the end of next year. 

Connected Home over IP Project 

This working group, therefore, announces the project “Connected Home over IP.”  IP is for Internet Protocol, i. e. the protocol that fragments each message into different small packets, and that also organizes their routing on the web, independently of each other, before reassembling them on arrival to recompose the information. 

This compatibility search is the main focus of the project, bringing together heavyweights from Silicon Valley, such as Google and Apple, but also Amazon and the members of the ZigBee alliance. It brings together companies such as Schneider Electric, SomfyLegrand, NXP, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Ikea, Samsung SmartThings, Silicon Labs, and Texas Instruments. 

This industrialist alliance will be the leading force for imposing this standard in the long term. Especially since it brings together companies that are also fierce competitors in the connected objects market – we are thinking, for example, of Apple, Google, and Amazon in the field of smart speakers. It is not a closed group: the door is open to the participation of the others. 

In addition to compatibility, the working group announces that this protocol will be open source, free of charge (no fee for its use), and designed according to the principle of “security by design,” i.e., the issues of reliability, integrity, and performance of the protocol. Therefore confidentiality and protection of data exchanged over the wireless link will be included from the outset.