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Internet of Things February 2020 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: David Strachan-Olson

Connected Home over IP

Why is this topic significant?

A new working group between significant players in the connected-home industry could lead to the development of a universal smart-home standard, which could simplify smart-home networks greatly.

Description

Late in 2019, Apple, Amazon.com, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance announced that they were creating a working group to develop a new open-source smart-home standard that relies on internet-protocol- (IP-) networking technologies: Connected Home over IP (CHIP). Other companies from the Zigbee Alliance board—including IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian—are also joining the Project Connected Home over IP (Project CHIP) working group.

Because the working group based the new standard on IP-networking technologies, it will be able to leverage off-the-shelf networking infrastructure and technologies. The working group plans to support three main home networks with CHIP: Wi-Fi, 802.15.4-based networks at 2.4 gigahertz (such as Thread and Zigbee), and Bluetooth Low Energy. To help accelerate the development of the new standards, the working group will leverage existing technologies and protocols already in deployment. Example technologies include Apple's HomeKit Accessory Development Kit, Amazon's Alexa smart home, Google's Weave and Thread, and the Dotdot application communication language that Google's Thread Group and the Zigbee Alliance developed collaboratively. The working group expects to have draft specifications and an open-source reference implementation in late 2020.

Implications

Frequently, industry stakeholders criticize a new standard by a specific company because it adds another slight variation to the range of standards that already exist. However, in this instance, the collaboration between many significant players in the connected-home space could lead to a new standard that may benefit the connected-home industry and customers. Currently, manufacturers of IoT (Internet of Things) devices have to pick and choose which of the many various connected-home standards they will support in a given device. Consumers also have to be cognizant of various connected-home standards and understand if new products work with their existing setup. A single prevailing connected-home standard would allow manufacturers to focus on product capabilities rather than develop support for multiple standards. Additionally, the simplicity of a single standard might encourage more homeowners to purchase smart-home devices.

Impacts/Disruptions

A lingering question stakeholders might have is "Why is this large group of tech companies working together?" Active collaboration between Amazon, Apple, and Google is rare. A potential explanation is that this standard could help commoditize sensor and IoT-device manufacturers while solidifying Apple, Amazon, and Google's position as the interfaces of choice for connected homes. Importantly, Project CHIP will not unify smart-home user interfaces such as voice assistants, smart displays, and mobile apps. With time, implementation of this standard could further direct connected-home users to interact with devices through interfaces controlled by the large players rather than a dedicated mobile app or interface from the IoT-device manufacturer. Although this move might improve user experience by siloing all IoT interactions through one app, IoT manufacturers may lose interaction and recognition with the user, which could erode brand awareness and eventually commoditize IoT devices.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

IoT devices, IoT sensors, connected homes, home networks, routers, access points

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

6 GHz Wi-Fi

Why is this topic significant?

Regulators are considering opening 6 GHz spectrum to unlicensed communications, particularly Wi-Fi. Such a move could be a boon for operators of Wi-Fi networks—but push back from existing users of 6 GHz spectrum and cellular stakeholders could slow rule making.

Description

Currently, Wi-Fi devices communicate in the 2.4- and 5-gigahertz (GHz) bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. In January 2020, perhaps as a preemptive measure, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced the industry name—Wi-Fi 6E—to identify Wi-Fi devices that support Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) extended into the 6 GHz band. If Wi-Fi 6E supports the entire 1,200 megahertz (MHz) of new spectrum, it would add 14 80 MHz channels and 7 160 MHz channels to Wi-Fi networks.

In October 2018, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a proposed rule to allow unlicensed use of 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band. Currently in the United States, that portion of the 6 GHz band is in use to support utilities, public-safety devices, and wireless backhaul. As part of the rule making, a consortium of industry players—including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft—have claimed that specific Wi-Fi operation profiles (low-power indoor and very low-power devices) could allow unlicensed 6 GHz Wi-Fi transmission without significant interference to existing 6 GHz use cases. Organizations that utilize the 6 GHz spectrum currently argue that 6 GHz Wi-Fi could interfere with existing 6 GHz deployments. AT&T says that Wi-Fi communications in the 6 GHz spectrum should have to use automatic frequency coordination (AFC) to prevent interference with existing systems. AFC would be tenable for outdoor and enterprise Wi-Fi deployments but could be too costly for consumer uses. A speech by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in September 2019 reaffirmed the FCC's interest in developing rules for unlicensed use of the 6 GHz band.

Implications

Opening of the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi has been years in the making but is likely to occur in the United States in 2020. Because of the relatively close proximity of 6 GHz spectrum to existing 5 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum, Wi-Fi component and device manufacturers may have to make only minimal hardware and software design changes to begin supporting 6 GHz communications in new hardware. The main benefit of the 6 GHz band is to provide additional spectrum to help address the spectrum shortage in dense and congested Wi-Fi environments. More Wi-Fi spectrum ensures that all devices—including IoT devices—can have adequate communications for information exchange. Additionally, the increased number of 160 MHz–wide channels will help support high-data-rate applications, such as 8K video streaming, off-device rendering for augmented and virtual reality, and backhaul for multipoint and mesh Wi-Fi networks.

Impacts/Disruptions

A potential disruption to the development of 6 GHz Wi-Fi is pressure on regulators from cellular-industry players. A number of cellular players want to specify portions of 6 GHz spectrum for 5G communications or at least ensure that both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G can leverage the unlicensed spectrum. Huawei and Ericsson recently sent a request to include 6 GHz spectrum in a four-year International Telecommunication Union study. Additionally, Qualcomm has previously stated how 6 GHz spectrum could find use in industrial 5G deployments. Such opposition could delay worldwide adoption of 6 GHz Wi-Fi and potentially limit the amount of available spectrum or restrict operational power levels.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

IoT devices, connected homes, home networks, routers, access points, video streaming

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: