Over the last few years, my parents have purchased a handful of smart home automation devices. Rather than stick with a single brand, they’ve mixed and matched – there’s a Nest smart thermostat here, a D-Link security camera there, and a Belkin WeMo Outlet and Light Switch is in the mix too. They all work just fine with their individual apps. But that’s the thing – you need individual apps for each because they’re unable to communicate to each other on their own.
Device manufacturers are working to fix this problem by creating a unified communications standard for smart devices in the home without requiring a separate in-home hub. One of the largest such groups, the ZigBee Alliance, just announced the launch of the ZigBee 3.0 standard. ZigBee is a low-power wireless mesh standard for Internet of Things (IoT) smart home devices. It’s currently embraced by a number of device manufacturers, including Bosch, GE, LG, Sylvania, Philips and Samsung. Products that embrace ZigBee are interoperable, allowing them to communicate with each other directly.
“Consumers expect their smart devices to just work and be simple, and we continue to deliver new and rich lighting centric experiences that are easy to control and create," explains Filip Jan Depauw, the Head of Marketing & Partnerships at Philips Connected Lighting. “The ZigBee protocols are a key enabler to achieve this, and the broader ZigBee 3.0 standard further enables seamless communication across different domains and will therefore allow us to offer even greater functionality to our users. Interoperability made simple empowers new use cases and happy consumers.”
Of course, ZigBee’s path to becoming the smart home communications standard isn’t quite so clear. It faces big competition from Thread, a mesh IoT network being developed by Nest and Google. Like the VHS and Beta tapes of the past, these two networking standards aren’t compatible with each other, so one will likely succeed and one will likely fade. It’s far too soon to say which will come out on top.
Want to learn more about home automation? Check out our smart home automation primer for more information on the different systems available. You might also want to check out our interview with Nest co-founder Matt Rogers to learn more about the Internet of Things and his thoughts on device interoperability and the various competing standards available.