What Is “Project Connected Home Over IP” for Smart Homes?

Logos from Amazon, Apple, Google, ZigBee, IKEA, etc.

Project Connected Home over IP is a new industrial group announced by Apple, Google, Amazon and the ZigBee Alliance. The group will create a new unifying standard for smart home appliances, and that’s a big problem. Here’s why.

The world today: half a dozen incompatible standards

If you are buying smart home products right now, you have a multitude of choices apparently to choose from. Even if you’ve already decided to buy smart light bulbs, you still need to make more decisions and ask more questions.

If you get a Wi-Fi, Z-Wave or ZigBee bulb? What about Bluetooth bulbs? Do you need a hub to control them? Do you want voice control? If yes, do you prefer Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri? And about wire, OpenWeaveand other competing standards? Do you miss each other if you don’t invest in them?

Each standard has varying advantages and disadvantages. Smart Wi-Fi devices are fast-communicating, low-latency devices that produce fast response times. But they are also energy intensive and therefore unsuitable for small devices powered by button cell like sensors. Wire, on the other hand, is efficient and low-power, but slower than Wi-Fi. It’s perfect for small sensors, but it may not be the best choice for a smart screen.

Smarthome home automation icon on motherboard, future concept of home remote control
Alexander Kirch / Shutterstock

Unfortunately, these standards will not work either, even when they seem similar. Both ZigBee and Wi-Fi devices communicate on the 2.4 GHz spectrum, but they cannot work directly with each other.

Most smart gadgets only support one wireless standard, such as ZigBee or Wi-Fi, but not both. Others opt for a kitchen sink; for example, a smart bulb can support Bluetooth and Zigbee and Google Assitant and Alexa. You may find the kitchen sink beneficial, but it also has drawbacks.

Manufacturers need to spend more time and effort to incorporate additional standards. Sometimes it even means adding additional hardware. All this increases the development costs that companies pass on to you.

Each new standard also comes with its vulnerabilities and shortcomings. It is theoretically easy to correct a set of weaknesses, but the difficulty increases with each additional incorporated standard. This can cause you uncorrected issues if a manufacturer decides that updating your smart gadget is too difficult or too expensive. At the end of the day, when you plan to network (or whatever) in a dozen different ways, you end up with dozens of cracks threatening to collapse.

CHIP’s dream: a standard to govern them all

The Project Connected Home over IP working group (we will call it CHIP) wishes to solve this problem by relying on an existing and tested standard: the Internet Protocol (IP). CHIP’s goal is not to replace Wi-Fi or ZigBee or Thread, but to bring the best of these protocols together under one shared umbrella.

I know you’re already thinking about it, but don’t write CHIP right away. xkcd

Right now, if a manufacturer wants to create a network device, like a Wi-Fi router or an Ethernet card, they use Internet Protocol (IP) as a unifying standard to link everything together. Intellectual property has existed for centuries and manufacturers understand its security advantages and needs. This is a boon for you, as it reduces hardware costs and increases security. This is why CHIP wishes to rely on IP for its unifying standard.

It is important not to confuse IP for Wi-Fi or other network hardware; it does not need to rely on a specific spectrum or set of chips. If CHIP can create and encourage the adoption of this new standard, devices built with ZigBee or Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios could, in theory, adopt the same unifying standard. Manufacturers, in turn, would need fewer resources to create and maintain smart home products.

The idea is not necessarily new; the Thread group has been working on a similar concept for some time. Grant Erickson, president of Thread Group, seems positive about the developments. He told us in a statement:

At the Thread Group, we feel validated on two fronts. First, to create this unified application layer protocol, the CHIP project uses the same IP-based thread group as the one used, and second, they designated Thread as the network layer for low-power devices. We believe that this effort will bring tangible and significant benefits to both product manufacturers and consumers. We can’t wait to see what real convergence can bring to the market.

And he’s right. If all devices use the same IP standard, you won’t have to worry about Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or Bluetooth. At the consumer level, connecting the device to your smart home should work the same regardless of the radio involved. And the manufacturer will choose the radio that best suits the usage scenario, without worrying about the difficulty of implementation.

In other words, CHIP’s dream is that you will be able to buy smart devices for the home, and they will “work” with everything you use, be it Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri or whatever. assistant or interface.

CHIP will not replace your interface

Amazon Echo and Google Nest Mini
Amazon, Google

CHIP has two objectives. First of all, it wishes to facilitate the manufacture of secure, mutually compatible smart devices. Second, he wants to make smart devices more accessible to consumers.

This means that most of the work will be in the background. Just as you don’t pay attention to the operation of your car engine or the functioning of your Wi-Fi network, you will not pay attention to the way your Smart Lock communicates with your smart blinds.

Since all of this work is in the background, your interface will not change. If you use Google Home or Alexa to control your smart devices, you will continue as you have always done with no real difference in experience. CHIP promises that the creation of this standard will not break your existing devices, even if you start to acquire new smart home gadgets compatible with CHIP. This should help reduce adoption pains.

When will CHIP arrive in consumer products?

A screenshot of the CHIP website, showing line after line of text and no images.
The CHIP site is a wall of text.

You may be wondering when you start to see the standard built into the devices. Well, don’t hold your breath. All we have now is the announcement of an intention. The standard does not exist and a specific plan has yet to be developed. He doesn’t even have an official name.

According to the website, “The goal of the task force is to publish a draft specification and open source implementation of preliminary benchmarks by the end of 2020”. This means that developers will start playing around in late 2020 and early 2021. Actual products that support the CHIP connectivity standard will arrive later.

You can see how early this is in the process by visiting CHIP website. It’s just a wall of text with basic ideas and promises. The only images are logos of companies that have signed.

Even the site itself is a bit urgent: it’s a Squarespace site. Until recently, you could still press the escape key to reach the Squarespace default login page.

This does not mean that you should cancel the standard, because it is another standard that will not bring anyone together. CHIP is supported by some of the biggest names in the smart home world, from Google, Apple and Amazon to IKEA and Signify (formerly Philips Hue). Apple already announced that these are open source parts of its HomeKit Accessory Development Kit (ADK) to facilitate the process.

CHIP’s goals are high and smaller groups have tried to reach their goal without much traction. But, if smart home titans can work together long enough to complete the process, this could be the norm that finally makes smart homes available to everyone.

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