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IoT heavyweights eye new app-layer connectivity standard for smart buildings

A number of major IoT outfits are collaborating under the auspices of the Zigbee Alliance to develop a new application-layer connectivity standard for the smart buildings market. Members of the strategy group leading the work include the likes of Legrand, Nordic Semiconductor, NXP Semiconductors, Osram, Schneider Electric, Signify, and Silicon Labs.

Together with others, they want to establish a new royalty-free connectivity standard that works with sundry IoT devices in commercial and industrial smart buildings, regardless of the software or transport connectivity. They are targeting IoT-based devices for smart lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, access controls, safety and security systems, window coverings, media units, access points, bridges, and others.

The work expands the scope of the existing Connected Home over IP (CHIP) project – announced at the start of the year, and backed by the likes of Amazon, Apple, and Google – to build an application layer protocol for the smart home. The new smart buildings protocol will be the same, just with additional security and functionality for industry.

Smart IoT devices in smart commercial buildings are similar, after all, and the volume opportunity with enterprises is considerably greater, the logic goes. The Zigbee Alliance quoted analyst house Research and Markets that the installed base of connected devices in commercial buildings will go from 1.7 billion in 2020 to nearly three billion by 2025, deployed in offices, hotels, malls, supermarkets, warehouses, factories, and everywhere between.

It should be noted, the group is not targeting industrial machines, and traditional industrial IoT, for which the market is circling around OPC-UA for the same ends. Because the headache of interoperability is the same: the lack of it, between different devices from different makers, remains a major problem for the IoT sector, and for achieving intelligent infrastructure and happy custom, in order to scale towards ‘massive’ IoT.

The project is based on an IP networking foundation, to enable reuse of flexible and familiar connectivity options. It will work with any IP-connected transport protocol, whether Wi-Fi, or Zigbee, or the various low-power wide-area (LPWA) IoT standards. The group said it will deliver a draft specification later this year and certified products in 2021. The new protocol remains unnamed, as yet.

The working group leading the project – which counts 50-odd firms (Allegion, DSP Group, DSR Corporation, Latch, MMB Networks, Somfy, and ubisys are also named in the press release) – has an agenda to clarify use cases for the project’s initial specification; define new features for additional commercial use cases; and generally spread and drum-up interest in adoption of IP-based connectivity standards in the commercial buildings market.

Manish Kumar, senior vice president of the digital buildings at Schneider Electric, said: “In today’s changing world, an IP infrastructure is the necessary backbone for any network to enable companies to leverage a digital architecture and connect their IoT enabled devices. Companies will be able to easily build and add Project-based devices to their existing networks in a way that is IT-compliant with the current architecture and management infrastructure.”

Murat Eti, vice president of strategy and future technologies at Legrand, said: “The industry is constantly investing in new technologies to achieve interoperability and offer an augmented use case experience to customers and tenants within commercial buildings. The Project will help drive the development and growth of a large, multi-vendor device catalogue that commercial solutions providers can tap into to drive value and efficiencies across both residential and commercial environments.”

The group wants new members to join, and contribute, it said, and offers an application path via the Zigbee Alliance.

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