Strategy Group Invites New Members to Build IoT Standard for Commercial Solutions

By Claire Swedberg

Project CHIP, led by the Zigbee Alliance, is expanding its efforts from a connected-home open internet standard to include commercial IoT products, with the aim of helping the industry develop solutions with Wi-Fi-, BLE- and Thread-based technologies using a standard IP backbone.

The  Zigbee Alliance has expanded its  Project CHIP Internet of Things (IoT) open-protocol efforts beyond the connected home to smart commercial buildings, and is inviting technology companies to join the development of a new standard. The expanded effort includes developing IoT solutions or devices used in lighting and electrical services; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls; access control; safety and security; window coverings or shades; televisions; and wireless access points. The goal, according to the organization, is to enable solutions by which a variety of products and systems could be used together under a single IoT standard.

Project CHIP, an acronym for the Project Connected Home over Internet Protocol, was launched in 2019 by the Zigbee Alliance, in partnership with technology companies  Amazon, Apple and  Google, to form an IoT open-standard strategy group. The group sought to simplify developments for IoT-based technology manufacturers, and to increase compatibility for consumers. Such devices include Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant. Wi-Fi, Thread (802.15.4 standard at 2.4 GHz) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are the three wireless protocols being included so far, and the Alliance's Commercial Strategy Group was formed in the past month to focus on the commercial applications for standardization.

Makarand Joshi

According to the Zigbee Alliance, there is no universally adopted IoT standard for smart-home or commercial solutions. Creating a common IP layer specification, says Makarand Joshi, a  Schneider Electric strategy director and engineer and a board member of the Zigbee Alliance, allows numerous products to interoperate, whether they employ Wi-Fi, BLE or Thread. In fact, the group intends to offer consumers the ability to use a variety of solutions at a single site, ranging from a smart home to a commercial deployment, while developers can build a device compatible with other systems, thereby accelerating the development of interoperable devices.

The Zigbee Alliance was established in 2002 to offer an open IoT standard to help smart products connect and interact. The Alliance now includes more than 145 member companies, Joshi says, which provide the group with a diversity of ideas. Its Project CHIP program first focused on smart-home solutions, he explains, while the long-term goal was to include both commercial and home devices or systems under a single specification.

The smart-home ecosystems came together first, Joshi recalls. "That has been a genesis," he states, "but it was not meant to be exclusionary." The Alliance began seeking input on commercial IoT standards early this year. The Commercial Strategy Group has been assessing use cases since then, and it is now broadening those use-case options. The team is currently looking into requirements for the security, reliability and lifecycle of products for Project CHIP certification.

Certification confirms interoperability and is intended to show customers that a product will work; that product's certified status is then listed on the Zigbee Alliance's website, and its provider can use Alliance-certified product logos. Currently, Joshi says, more than 50 companies offering commercial solutions are working within the strategy group on Project CHIP's IoT specification. The commercial building space includes products used in small to large buildings, such as hotels, hospitals, data centers and smart parking areas, among other sites.

The strategy group intends to seek a broad list of solutions and applications. "The commercial market is huge, so it will require us to look at additional use cases," Joshi says. For that reason, he adds, "The group is welcoming other participants." Vendors are already focusing on a set of vertical markets, such as elevator management, wireless lighting control, and occupancy sensing and sensors.

Traditionally, the Zigbee Alliance has found, such devices and solutions in commercial settings tend to operate in silos. That creates challenges for users operating multiple separate systems that don't interoperate. The Commercial Strategy Group is focused on creating a spec that will provide Project CHIP certification for products that meet standards for performance, lifespan and security. Certified products could then be brought into a smart building and automatically operate in the network, whether supplied by Google, Amazon, Apple or another provider.

"Installers and facility managers want to have a wide range of options from device manufacturers," Joshi states. In the long term, he says, vendors will be able to sell a product based on Project CHIP certification, while installers and building owners will be able to select among interchangeable vendor products. To build the Project CHIP standard, the Zigbee Alliance is seeking a broad team of companies from different geographical areas and with a wide variety of products and applications.

"We want it to be a global effort," Joshi explains, "with participation from global companies across lots of segments." Current members of the strategy group include software and device manufacturers, as well as solution providers and integrators. The Alliance expects products with Project CHIP certification to be made available in the market by the end of 2021.

The new standard centers around the application IP layer, with products able to operate via BLE, Wi-Fi and Thread. Joshi says the trend in IoT development is around the IP backbone of any system, for which all three can interoperate. That enables hybrid systems in which one frequency, such as Wi-Fi, can serve one solution (connecting wirelessly to a building's broadband network), while BLE could serve another (interacting directly with a user's mobile phone).

"By bringing together disparate devices using existing IP-based tools," Joshi notes, "there will be coexistence with multiple vendors." By next year, the group hopes to see device manufacturers releasing product that bear Project CHIP certification for use in commercial IoT systems. "We believe stakeholders can contribute to this effort. We welcome their participation."