The Importance of “Things”​ In the IoT

Written by: Tobin Richardson President & CEO, Zigbee Alliance

Wireless industry organizations are typically deeply rooted in the “Internet” portion of the Internet of Things (IoT) – meaning deep-tech and systems companies contribute to the underlying technology frameworks created for the market, and then consumer-facing product manufacturers build on them. Standards bodies generally design based on an “If you build it, they will come” mentality (a nod to one of my favorite sports that many of us are sorely missing right now). We reason that if we build open wireless standards that facilitate simple connections and interoperability between brands and ecosystems, then device manufacturers will come play in our IoT field. And, they have.

Since the Zigbee Alliance opened its doors, we’ve attracted the best and most well-respected entities from this “Internet” side of the game to guide our vision and mission for low-power wireless standards. And early adopters like Philips Lighting (Signify) lit the way for others to join in. Over time, this played out as expected and placed us in the very fortunate position we’re in together today as an association of hundreds of global companies who are setting the course for the future of the IoT. We have an impressive, deep bench of “Internet” companies, and we have ground-breaking, new initiatives being championed by prominent Alliance members by way of the Project Connected Home over IP Working Group.

However, during all this progress, we need to recognize a bellwether event that’s happening alongside our steady recruitment of Internet leaders. This is the addition of premium participants from the “T” sector of the Internet of Things. These market-moving companies that design, build and sell “Things” are also interested in helping evolve the IoT playbook – in particular at the standards level, an indicator to the need to combine real-world use cases with sensor and control capabilities. What’s more, they are doing so in the Alliance community, and are committing to this cause at the leadership level.

Case in point: in December 2019 we welcomed IKEA to our Board of Directors. IKEA’s overarching vision is to create a better life at home through simple designs that resonate with the masses. The retail leader’s influence reaches all corners of the earth, and IKEA products can be found in apartments, dormitories, single-family homes, farms and more – nearly any structure where humans reside. Companies like IKEA are a critical bridge between the static world of analog living and the digital-infused world of smart living. IKEA is transforming the way we all exist and interact with our things by giving traditional objects an intelligence makeover – and making them accessible to all.

This shift started years ago with basic household items like thermostats. Once simply an object installed onto a wall, today’s thermostats connect to the Internet and provide consumers with digital control from anywhere they choose to view and manage their system. Thermostats evolved into connected devices, adding intelligence which not only created communication between the dwelling and its inhabitants, but linked cloud capabilities for expanded efficiencies for those managing facilities and operating utilities. In fact, smart thermostat use cases expanded so heavily into some markets that it’s now part of building code requirements.

Taking a simple thing like a thermostat, lightbulb, or even a chair, and applying connectivity can exponentially extend its value and puts us all in an exciting new league of living. This is where the IoT needs to go. We need to look beyond the horizon and imagine a world where humans have a bullpen of straightforward use cases to tap into. We need to build the IoT future so it’s as simple as selecting a product off the shelf, installing it with no hassle, and having the ability – as consumers – to control and intuitively manage these devices.

I’m appreciative of the high-caliber team that’s come together from both sides of the IoT equation here – the “Internet” companies and the “Things” corporations. We’ve had our eyes squarely on the ball for years and have worked hard to reach this pivotal point together. It’s going to be an intense but worthwhile series as we continue to diligently lay the groundwork and a collaborative pathway for standards development and IoT advancement the world over.