Thoughts on Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP)

In late December 2019 Google, Amazon, Apple and a number of other companies announced Project Connected Home over IP. Like all Internet of Things I thought I would dig into it and see what it’s made up of.

First thoughts before I even began to dig were basically “well they got there eventually!” as I’ve long believed that for IoT in the home to be successful as a whole there needs to be a single set of open standards that all devices speak so that the things can intercommunicate…. you know, just like the internet! But like so many of these things the big companies always attempt to see if they can control the entire market first, then realise they need to “compromise” and work with the other players on standards, which is when the market starts to actually mature and consumers start to win out!

If you look at the project’s web site there’s, at least at the time of writing, 16 company logos on the page, of which around six or seven I would consider household names. A standard such as this was always going to happen. If you look at the “Home IoT Market” it’s a mish-mash of competing and incompatible standards, none of which really have a lead and some of the big names, such as Apple with their HomeKit interface (I refuse to use the term “standard”), have been struggling to get any real level of foot hold in the market. Some of the more popular off the shelf devices have been things like Samsung’s “SmartThings” which implement a number of different radios etc as bridge/gateway devices to make other things work together, which in and of itself speaks volumes. If the companies themselves didn’t get themselves sorted out it would have ended up in governments mandating something. In short the whole category is a big mess!

So reading through the FAQ and various bits in the media about it what does it appear to do? It puts IP over stuff! Shocking right!? To quote the FAQ:

The goal of the first specification release will be Wi-Fi, up to and including 802.11ax (aka Wi-Fi 6), that is 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax; Thread over 802.15.4-2006 at 2.4 GHz; and IP implementations for Bluetooth Low Energy, versions 4.1, 4.2, and 5.0 for the network and physical wireless protocols.

So the technologies they’re using are WiFi, no real shock there, although there’s no mention of Wi-Fi HaLow AKA 802.11ah but for home use that’s nothing of note. Next up in Bluetooth LE, 4.1 – 5.0, again no real surprises here, there’s already a standard for IP over Bluetooth LE/mesh in the form of 6LoWPAN, the same as used by Thread and vanilla 802.15.4, slightly interesting they mentioned explicitly 3 versions of BT-LE and just didn’t say BT-LE in general as all versions support IP. The final option mentioned was 802.15.4, the bit that I find particularly interesting here is that Zigbee Alliance was one of the four companies in the original announcement, 802.15.4 is an open radio standard used by Zigbee, Thread, 6LoWPAN directly and a number of other protocols, Zigbee has their own Zigbee IP standard, which competes with Thread and others yet Thread, originally out of Google/Nest is the chosen one. I’ve also found Thread to not really be a completely open standard like TCP/IP, as while there is the OpenThread implementation, you need to be a paying member of the Thread Group organisation to have it certified!

So what else does the project offer? They mention the following but note the term “may include”.:

This may include a proposed standard for lifecycle events such as provisioning/onboarding, removal, error recovery, and software update.

I feel that the lifecycle events they mention are actually extremely important here, and standards in this area are just as important as connectivity standards such as IP for layer 3. If you look at components such as provisioning/onboarding there’s fairly new standards evolving such as the Intel/Arm FIDO secure device onboarding collaboration which are still quite new so I suspect they’re going to wait and watch these before making a decision which is actively a good thing in my opinion if it means one less new standard!

Overall there’s currently nothing actually new on offer here in terms of standards, what is new is a number of large companies committing to focusing on a single Layer 3 connectivity protocol. There’s already widely available hardware across WiFi/Bluetooth/802.15.4 as well as standard IP implementations for them all. This should actively replace Zigbee, Z-Wave and a number of other proprietary Layer 2/3 protocols and should be straight forward for adoption as there’s not actually a lot for anyone else to do.

I feel this is a move in the right direction and will make life easier for a lot of third parties who want their products to work with “the big three of Apple/Google/Amazon”, the move to more open standards is obviously good, but overall there’s really nothing particularly new other than another mechanism for closed companies to work together. I don’t think it’ll ultimately make much difference in general to the open source community as those companies will have their proprietary protocols/APIs sitting on top of IP, just like in other parts of the internet now. It’ll be interesting to see how open the process is once they release code and start to work on it.

Basically it’s a wait and watch so really I’m ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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