I was at Computex a couple of weeks ago when several customers came up and asked me this question: How do I know which products in the market will work with the product I'm developing? Great question indeed. When a customer decides to go the standards route (e.g. ZigBee HA1.2) how do they know which other products will work with theirs? That brings up the topic of ecosystems.
What is an ecosystem and how does it relate to IoT? The word "ecosystem" can mean many different things to different people. There are hardware, software, and cloud ecosystems that are all related but different. In the end, a few things remain the same:
Diversity is a great benefit of any ecosystem. Multiple players in the same ecosystem allows for more things to be connected in the same setup. It also means the suppliers can specialize and work together to build out a larger community. A bigger community of things means a bigger reach in the market.
Interoperability is closely related to diversity. Interoperability means different "things" from different suppliers can all work together, hence creating a more homogeneous environment. In order to achieve interoperability, a common set of rules is needed and some kind of organization needs to police the compliance to these rules.
Now let's look at the home automation market segment we have been investigating. If you remember from the first blog in this series, I suggested that ZigBee is an ideal protocol for home automation because of the mesh networking capabilities and mature profiles. Within ZigBee, there are many ecosystems: iControl, wink, SmartThings, just to name a few.
These ecosystems provide device makers the benefit of their brand recognition, a list of devices that are all interoperable, and their set of rules. Maybe you’re not a fan of the rules, but it’s precisely the rules that are keeping the devices all working with each other.
There are 3 main types of ecosystems in the ZigBee home automation space
First, on one side there is the proprietary, or closed ecosystem. These ecosystems exist because they have non-standard implementation from special requirements. You see this type of closed ecosystems typically in lighting or commercial and industrial applications.
Second, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you will find completely open ecosystems. If you comply to the standard, for example ZigBee HA 1.2, then you can get on the network. However, there is a caveat. The gateway will let your device join the network, but it may or may not recognize all the features or attributes of your device.
Finally, the majority of the ecosystems out there fall somewhere in between. These ecosystems can accept other standards compliant devices. However, in order to fully utilize the features and functions on the devices, you will need to be approved by the ecosystems. Sometimes, that is also referred to as “white listing” your devices.
Once you decide on the type of ecosystem, what are the steps to joining an ecosystem and which should I choose? Even within the ZigBee ecosystems, each is different. This is because within the standard profiles like HA1.2, there are optional features that an ecosystem may choose to implement.
But the basic steps are:
There are many additional non-technical factors that go into selecting an ecosystem: brand recognition, type of devices in the ecosystem, or cost to join. These are things that only the device maker can prioritize and decide.
Ecosystems are complex and involve many players. I shared some key concepts and questions about ecosystems. There are great benefits to being a part of an ecosystem. But at the end of the day, the answer to joining an ecosystem is not always “yes”.
Check out our connected home reference designs here, and don’t forget to read the previous blogs below.