Reports of ZigBee on handsets would be a big deal for the connected home (and ZigBee)

Connected Home

Could ZigBee gain some real ground when it comes to the connected home? Pocket-lint is reporting that Samsung and HTC are both thinking about adding a ZigBee chip to their handsets. If true, that would give consumers more control over their existing home automation products such as certain motorized window shades and ZigBee switches, as well as provide a big boost to the ZigBee standard.

Currently, Z-Wave, which is an alternative low-energy, mesh networking standard, is more prevalent in home automation devices — the CEO of Securifi, the maker of the Almond + router estimated Z-wave products outnumbered ZigBee products by a factor of 10 to 1. And with Bluetooth Low Energy gaining ground in newly launched connected devices and adding more support for those gadgets, ZigBee is looking a little lame.

Both Qualcomm and Broadcom are forging ahead with the belief that ZigBee isn’t going to be a player — stances that might change if big device makers want to put the radio technology in their handsets. One reason companies are betting so heavily on Bluetooth Low Energy for connected devices in the home is because most handsets already have it. That means a person can buy a Bluetooth lock for example and have it work seamlessly with their iOS or Android device (or it will soon).

Given the importance the smartphone has played so far in the adoption of connected devices, getting a ZigBee chip inside a mass market handset is not a small thing. Of course, putting the chip inside the handset isn’t enough. The ZigBee Alliance must beef up its profiles and features to support easy discoverability and security. On the OS side, Apple and Google must write native support for ZigBee in their OSes– something Android recently did for Bluetooth LE.

That’s a lot to go right for a standard that has also been confusing for consumers. For example, the Nest Thermostat and Philips Hue light bulbs both have ZigBee chips, but neither can be controlled via the internet using a ZigBee-powered hub straight out of the box. For now, control comes via the official apps, although Philips has opened the Hue SDK and is working with companies such as IFTTT and SmartThings to support their products. However ,it’s not clear if that integration uses ZigBee or is accessed via the Hue cloud.

But the benefits of ZigBee (it’s open as opposed to proprietary Z-Wave, and it’s a mesh technology that adds value in home settings) are such that it might find a more dominant place in the connected home if it first finds a place in the consumers’ pocket. The Samsung and HTC rumors are encouraging. I suppose if the next iPhone has ZigBee I’d declare the standard saved.

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