New initiative aims to strengthen IoT security, interoperability and reliability

The Zigbee Alliance publicly announced a major ongoing initiative to make smart home and IoT products easier to develop, deploy, and sell across ecosystems.

Zigbee Alliance All Hubs Initiative

The All Hubs Initiative is driven by a Zigbee Alliance workgroup comprised of leading IoT companies including Amazon, Comcast, Exegin, Kwikset, Landis+Gyr, LEEDARSON, Legrand, MMB Networks, NXP, OSRAM, Schneider Electric, Silicon Labs, Somfy, and many others 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.

“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, board director of the Zigbee Alliance, 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.”

Meeting the evolving needs of major ecosystems

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 was designed to support 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, 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 All Hubs 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 standardize 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” programs, ahead of the formal launch of Zigbee 3.1.

Bringing the industry together

The project was envisioned in the fall of 2017 at the first Hive Executive IoT Summit organized by the Zigbee Alliance. These exclusive events take place annually around the globe to bring together market-moving individuals and organizations 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 challenges facing major platforms, device vendors, and consumers, key ecosystem participants committed to working together to solve these issues. Together, they formed the All Hubs Initiative, which now operates as a technical workgroup under the Zigbee Alliance umbrella. Securing buy-in from leaders throughout the IoT landscape gives the All Hubs Initiative strong backing and diverse support as an ‘all hands in’ effort for the growth of the entire industry.