Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Zigbee initiative strengthens IoT interoperability

Steve Rogerson
June 6, 2019



The Zigbee Alliance has announced the All Hubs initiative to strengthen interoperability, reliability and security across the IoT. The initiative aims to make smart home and IoT products easier to develop, deploy and sell across ecosystems.
 
The initiative is driven by a Zigbee Alliance workgroup comprised of IoT companies including Amazon, Comcast, Exegin, Kwikset, Leedarson, Legrand, MMB Networks, NXP, Osram, Schneider Electric, Silicon Labs and Somfy with the goal of improving interoperability between IoT devices and major consumer and commercial platforms.
 
The product of this effort is a set of features at the application and network layers of Zigbee that will be incorporated into the upcoming 3.1 version of Zigbee technology.
 
While Zigbee Alliance members can participate in this workgroup and contribute to and access these evolving specifications, the Alliance is publicly announcing this initiative as a number of smart home systems will add these features to their platform certification requirements ahead of the ratification of the full 3.1 feature set to take advantage of these enhancements more immediately.
 
“Consumers and businesses want connected devices that offer value and convenience, work great, and work together seamlessly,” said Chris DeCenzo, chair of the All Hubs initiative workgroup and principal engineer at Amazon. “Through the All Hubs initiative, leading IoT companies in the Zigbee Alliance are working together to define interoperability standards to help device makers innovate and expand selection while continuing to deliver consistent, reliable experiences for customers.”
 
IoT and smart home ecosystems can vary in their supported features, business models, value propositions, customer experience expectations, security requirements and other factors. This is the nature of the openness and innovation of the IoT, and the Zigbee standard supports this flexibility across offerings from Amazon, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Ikea and others.
 
However, this flexibility can sometimes create challenges for device vendors trying to build and market products that meet the requirements of different ecosystems and earn their coveted “Works With” badges, and challenges for businesses and customers using those products across a number of hubs.
 
“As innovation across the IoT continues to accelerate, device vendors need to ensure their products can adapt to the diverse and evolving requirements of multiple ecosystems, and reliably work across major IoT hubs,” said Tobin Richardson, president and CEO of the Zigbee Alliance. “The All Hubs initiative is not just an important effort in strengthening interoperability, but a phenomenal example of how global industry leaders and innovators come together within the Zigbee Alliance to share best practices and solve industry-wide challenges.”
 
The initiative is not a specific version of Zigbee technology, but rather a list of features that will contribute to the core Zigbee roadmap. More specifically, they are a set of updates to the Zigbee specification at both the application and network layers that maintain the flexibility of Zigbee to meet diverse market needs, while improving interoperability.
 
Key to maintaining this flexibility, these improvements establish a robust method by which hubs can communicate their supported and required features to new devices that join their networks, and how those devices should configure themselves appropriately. They also further standardise the process of commissioning and operating Zigbee devices based on the best practices and real-world experience of alliance member companies. These updates will be part of Zigbee 3.1, the next iteration of the Zigbee standard, which is currently scheduled for release later in 2019.
 
These updated features and Zigbee 3.1 itself will be backwards compatible with Zigbee 3.0 certified devices and hubs. Some ecosystems however are participating in early implementations of the All Hubs initiative’s features and may request device vendors support these features as part of their “Works With” programmes ahead of the formal launch of Zigbee 3.1.
 
The project was envisioned in autumn 2017 at the first Hive Executive IoT Summit organised by the Zigbee Alliance. These events take place annually around the globe to bring together market-moving individuals and organisations from across the IoT industry. Attendees represent companies from within and outside the Zigbee Alliance and include technology executives, visionaries and leaders from other standards bodies.
 
As a result of key discussions on the interoperability problems facing major platforms, device vendors and consumers, ecosystem participants committed to working together to solve these problems. Together, they formed the All Hubs initiative, which now operates as a technical workgroup under the Zigbee Alliance umbrella. Securing buy-in throughout the IoT landscape gives the initiative backing and diverse support as an all-hands-in effort for the growth of the entire industry.
 
The initiative feature set is available to current Zigbee Alliance members.