ZigBee Reveals New Universal Language for Smart Homes

The new language, dotdot, is based on technology already at the heart of ZigBee products.

Editor’s Note: The following story first ran in Security Sales & Integration’s sister publication CE Pro.

Back when it debuted in 2014, I called Thread the “most promising IoT standard yet,” but there was one serious caveat: Thread itself doesn’t do anything. It simply defines a networking layer for secure and efficient communications among low-power home-automation devices. Two years later, however, we’re still looking for a smart-home language to ride over Thread.

ZigBee, one of today’s dominant smart-home standards, wants to “win” Thread with a “universal language” it calls dotdot.

Launching at CES 2017, dotdot is essentially ZigBee’s old ZCLIP – ZigBee Cluster Library over IP – with a cute new brand and a logo that ZigBee is overly fond of*. (In other breaking news, ZigBee apparently is now zigbee.)

zigbee introduces dotdot

*ZigBee is rather proud of :II

“It basically uses the application profiles of ZigBee, but runs them over IP networks,” rather than ZigBee’s proprietary RF backbone, says Dave Mayne, VP marketing for Resolution Products, maker of security and home-automation products sold mostly through security dealers.

For the second year in a row, Resolution’s Helix panel will serve as the hub for a Thread demo at CES, with dotdot running over IPv6. (Last year, the demo was Z-Wave-over-Thread.)

It’s not really a new development. Last year, the ZigBee Alliance and Thread Group hailed a new relationship that would deliver “ZigBee over Thread.”

They’re still working on it, but at least we’ll get a glimpse of the future at CES with a kludgy demo that includes:

  • Resolution Products (Helix security/home automation hub, sensors)
  • Yale (door lock)
  • Schneider Electric (light switch)
  • P&G (Febreze air freshener)
  • MMB (thermostat)
  • SiLabs (occupancy sensor and smart outlet)
  • Osram (Lightify LED lighting strip)
  • Nortek (garage-door controller)
  • Somfy
  • NXP Semiconductors

In addition to its Helix gateway, Resolution has developed a dotdot-compliant door/window sensor that will be part of the demo. In addition, the company developed the application for the ZigBee/Thread demo, which offers hints of what we’ll see from Resolution at the big ISC West security show in April – a new tablet-based gateway called HeliTouch.

Mayne cautions that the products on display at CES – in both the Thread and ZigBee booths – are not commercially available or even certified yet, “but given the strong cooperation between ZigBee and Thread, I anticipate commercialization can happen quickly.”

Existing ZigBee developers shouldn’t have much of a learning curve, he says, because the dotdot profiles have the same look and feel as ZigBee classic.

He adds that existing ZigBee devices “can easily be brought into the dotdot world through translator and gateway bridges.”

For its part, Resolution is well positioned to be at the center of the ZigBee/Thread planet because “Helix is the first IoT gateway that is UL-compliant for security and life safety applications,” Mayne says. “Beyond this, we are the first to demonstrate ZigBee and Thread applications.”

Mayne is bullish on ZigBee over Thread, especially for security applications, where lightweight sensors must communicate two-way while consuming very little power.

The low-power bi-directional features of Thread allow active canvassing (supervising and status updates) that security sensors demand. Furthermore, Thread’s mesh-networking capability “allows for greater range and coverage without the added expense and size of a larger battery,” Mayne says.

 

Thread and Weave and OCF

ZigBee isn’t the only game in town working on an application layer for Thread. There’s Weave from Nest and IoTivity from the Open Connectivity Foundation.

Weave is the language used by Nest to enable its thermostats, smoke detectors and cameras to communicate with each other directly, without having to go through the home network or the cloud. Thread is the networking layer that underlies Weave, the application layer.

Both are Nest inventions, deployed already in millions of Nest devices. Both were thrown out there as “standards.”

Thread took; Weave so far hasn’t.

Yale introduced the Thread/Weave-enabled Linus door lock last year, but that’s the only third-party implementation of Weave that we know about. What the lock gets you is direct communications with Nest devices, no Internet required.

Granted, Nest’s parent company Google did implement Thread and Weave in the OnHub router, but that product apparently is on the way out, replaced by Google Wifi. Google did not implement Thread or Weave or even the requisite 802.15.4 radio in its Google Home hub.

The Weave initiative is not dead, however. It was presented at a recent Thread Group event, where several popular smart devices were pictured in a presentation. CE Pro reached out to one of the brands featured, but the company would not comment on Weave.

Chip-maker Silicon Labs, a founding member of the Thread Group, was to have Weave-enabled solutions available to developers in 2016.

OCF – the organization formed by the 2016 merger of AllSeen/AllJoyn Alliance and the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) – also presented at the Thread event.

The two organizations announced last year they would “work together to ensure that OCF’s application layer will be fully compatible with Thread’s low-power, secure and scalable IPv6-based wireless mesh network layer.”

OCF executive director Mike Richmond called the collaboration “special.”

OCF over Thread is definitely a “go” but information about CES 2017 demos is scarce. We do know that the following companies will have a presence at the OCF booth:

  • Intel
  • Allion USA
  • Affinegy
  • AlphaNodus
  • Enocean
  • Haier
  • Innopia
  • Kyrio
  • Ntels
  • Samsung
  • Tekoia
  • VIA
  • AwoX
  • ETRI
  • Genivi
  • Honeywell
  • Microsoft
  • Twobulls
  • xped

About the Author

Contact:

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration.

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