What you need to know about home IoT standards at CES
Don't get too excited about all your devices getting along—yet.
The Open Interconnect Consortium used a model house to demonstrate IoT interoperability at the IoT World conference in San Francisco on May 12, 2015.
When Internet of Things devices debut at this year’s CES, one of the biggest questions will be how they’ll connect to all the other smart-home gear on display. But anyone who expects a clear answer to that is like a kid who gets up Thanksgiving morning looking for a bunch of gifts under a tree.
The fact is, it’s too early to say what standard or protocol will become the glue that can turn a pile of cool gadgets into a system that runs your whole house for you. New systems are just starting to emerge, and though they may eventually work with each other and with older platforms, buying one of each and expecting harmony is still wishful thinking.
Connected homes may make life easier eventually. A thermostat linked to a garage-door opener could tell who’s coming home and set the heat or air-conditioning for their preferences. Compatible room lights and an audio system could join in, too.
That vision’s starting to catch on. Ownership of connected home devices in the U.S. grew by 50 percent this year, and fully 43 percent of all households in the country will buy one in the next year, research company Parks Associates said last month.
For now, most people only have their eye on one device, said NextMarket analyst Michael Wolf. They may buy a connected thermostat for its features, or buy a networked garage-door opener because their old one broke, but they’re not after a whole-home setup yet.
For those who are, there are already ways to tie devices together without giving up a weekend. Many vendors offer hubs to make their own home products work together, and some have opened these systems up to others. Samsung has SmartThings, Belkin has WeMo, retail chains like Lowe’s and Staples have their own platforms, and smart-home specialist Insteon has a line of hubs and devices, to name just a few.
Broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast also offer selected products and ensure they work together. These systems may start with home security and expand to include things like lighting and climate control.
But having a vendor or carrier decide which products can understand each other won’t be enough in the long run. Some new platforms are designed to offer a broader selection of products that consumers can add on easily.
That’s where new buzzwords like AllJoyn, OIC, Brillo, Weave, Thread and HomeKit come in. But there are two things to keep in mind.
Network protocols to keep an eye on
At CES, some vendors will also be talking about the network protocols they use, though consumers are less likely to shop based on networking. Here are some highlights:
Wi-Fi: The ubiquitous wireless system will remain at the heart of most home networks, but many small, battery-powered devices won’t talk to it directly because of size and power requirements.
IEEE 802.11ah: A version of Wi-Fi with lower power consumption, due for approval in 2016.
Bluetooth: The familiar personal-area network tackles IoT with the power-efficient Bluetooth Smart (or Low Energy) version and is expected to add longer range and mesh capability in 2016.
Z-Wave: A low-power mesh technology licensed by silicon maker Sigma Designs and used in a wide range of connected-home devices.
ZigBee: A mesh network based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard and widely used in low-power home devices.
6LoWPAN: An IPv6-only version of IEEE 802.15.4 mesh networking.
Thread: A protocol introduced in 2014 and based on 6LoWPAN, with added features for security, routing, setup and device wakeup.
ULE (Ultra Low Energy): A recently introduced low-power version of the DECT cordless-phone network technology.