• the Internet of Things
  • The Smart Home
  • Google
  • Amazon

Smart Home Device Compatibility Is Coming, but You'll Have to Wait

Feb 12, 2020

Smart Home 3

There is a new recipe under development for smart home device compatibility that just might work. The Connected Home Over IP (CHIP) project is a recipe to combine a number of important companies that aim to create a royalty-free connectivity standard for smart home products.

The CHIP effort, which is spearheaded by the Zigbee Alliance, emerged just before the 2019 holidays and became a key topic of discussion in January at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The reason CHIP has drawn wide attention is who is on board: Amazon, Apple, and Google. If these three tech giants can agree on a standard, the smart home market could grow more significantly in coming years than it might without standardization. Currently, nearly everyone agrees the market is held back by a lack of device interoperability.

CHIP has a twofold plan. It wants to simplify development for device manufacturers and increase device compatibility for consumers. CHIP project stakeholders have also come together around the notion that smart home devices need to be reliable, secure, and seamless to use. These are laudable goals, given how setting up a smart device is relatively easy until one purchases a product from a different brand that uses a different connectivity protocol or schema. Often, a smart device or two sits in a silo and needs some bridge to connect to other products. Connecting a variety of smart devices can be frustrating, sewing anger or disappointment among even tech-savvy smart home adopters. CHIP aims to relieve the pain. The initial standard is expected to work over several existing network and physical wireless protocols, including Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth Low Energy, and Thread.

CHIP’s Roadmap

While the project’s goals are affable, a marketplace full of CHIP-enabled products is not close to here yet. Leaders of the CHIP working group say they expect to release a draft specification and a preliminary reference open-source implementation late in 2020. This means developers are likely to start tinkering with CHIP at the end of 2020 or early 2021 and perhaps deliver CHIP-capable devices by the 2Q 2021.

Other Standards

Besides CHIP, there are other smart home and Internet of Things compatibility standards in development. One is from the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF). Many vendors showed off beta versions of the first generation of OCF-compatible devices at the 2020 CES.

Another standard comes from the US Environmental Protection Energy’s ENERGY STAR program. The program is developing a specification called the smart home energy management system (SHEMS). SHEMSs’ goal is to create a framework for required energy-saving features that lower costs while also being convenient for consumers. The first certified SHEMS packages are expected to enter the market sometime in 2020, likely toward the latter half.

So, even as CHIP chefs begin to formulate the recipe, other standards vie for market attention, leaving consumers somewhat in limbo until the ingredients coalesce. In speaking with market stakeholders at CES and afterwards, there seems to be a growing consensus that CHIP could be a breakthrough for compatibility in the smart home. This opinion is popular not only because the big three tech giants are in the game but also because Samsung SmartThings, Resideo, Schneider Electric, and Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) are too. There seems to be real momentum behind CHIP. But one longtime observer told me he remains skeptical—he has seen too many of these standardization moves falter. He could be right, but my hunch is this one has a good shot of enduring, and in the next few years consumers will taste the CHIP recipe.