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What you need to know about home IoT standards at CES

Stephen Lawson | Jan. 4, 2016
Don't get too excited about all your devices getting along -- yet.

-- Brillo and Weave: These two software components have been called Google's answer to HomeKit. Brillo is a power-efficient IoT operating system based on Android, and Weave is middleware similar to AllJoyn and OIC that lets devices identify each other and their capabilities. Weave can work with OSes other than Brillo, and it can use at least three different networking protocols: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy and Thread, the system spearheaded by sister company Nest.

-- ZigBee: This one's been around a while and is already built into many products. ZigBee standards for all types of devices, both home and enterprise, recently merged in the ZigBee 3.0 specification. ZigBee and Z-Wave are market leaders today because they are full-stack solutions that can ensure devices will work together, though they require hubs, said Parks Associates analyst Tom Kerber. The ZigBee Alliance says there could be bridges built between its platform and AllJoyn or OIC. It has also talked about possible integration with Thread, which would act as the underlying network.

-- Z-Wave: This technology, licensed by chip maker Sigma Designs, is also in a lot of products already. It's a full stack, too, but the Z-Wave Alliance says it's looking at ways to integrate Z-Wave with other platforms like AllJoyn and OIC.

At CES, some vendors will also be talking about the network protocols they use, though consumers are less likely to shop based on networking. Here are some highlights:

-- Wi-Fi: The ubiquitous wireless system will remain at the heart of most home networks, but many small, battery-powered devices won't talk to it directly because of size and power requirements.

-- IEEE 802.11ah: A version of Wi-Fi with lower power consumption, due for approval in 2016.

-- Bluetooth: The familiar personal-area network tackles IoT with the power-efficient Bluetooth Smart (or Low Energy) version and is expected to add longer range and mesh capability in 2016.

-- Z-Wave: A low-power mesh technology licensed by silicon maker Sigma Designs and used in a wide range of connected-home devices.

-- ZigBee: A mesh network based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard and widely used in low-power home devices.

-- 6LoWPAN: An IPv6-only version of IEEE 802.15.4 mesh networking.

-- Thread: A protocol introduced in 2014 and based on 6LoWPAN, with added features for security, routing, setup and device wakeup.

-- ULE (Ultra Low Energy): A recently introduced low-power version of the DECT cordless-phone network technology.


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