interoperability for smart homes

With Interoperability, You’ll Feel Right At (Smart) Home

In 2018, Internet of Things devices produced over 5 quintillion1 bytes of data per day.

In 2019, that data is projected to grow exponentially as the number of IoT devices increases. By 2020, IoT devices could surpass 20 million (to 2018’s 11 million).2 This device increase holds promise: With each new data point created comes valuable insights.

interoperability for smart homes

interoperability for smart homes

Still, there’s a critical missing piece to all this emerging data: interoperability. That is, the exchange and cooperative use of data4 between connected devices regardless of their manufacturer.

Today, most devices collect data and generate insights independently from one another: Your wearable counts your steps and generates insights about your activity levels for the day, but it can’t communicate with a recipe app to recommend an appropriate meal based on the calories you burned. Likewise, smart home sensors can alert you when a pipe is leaking — but they can’t shut off the water without your command. A truly smart home, on the other hand, brings all of your smart devices together using data.

Imagine the home that wakes you up by opening the blinds after sensors indicate you’ve gotten eight hours of sleep.

Knowing how long it takes to brew your morning coffee, the coffee pot turns on in response to you turning on the shower. On a cold day, the house will start the car when it detects the news program you usually watch is almost over. And if there’s a change your routine? It can sense that and react dynamically.

interoperability for smart homes

As IoT device data grows in size and complexity, this kind of interoperability will be required so that smart homes can not only draw useful insights or respond to commands, but also take these kinds of meaningful, independent actions.

The Rise of Rule-Based Interoperability

Emerging technologies across industries are often slow to see widespread applications due to a variety of challenges — from development delays to vendor competition. The IoT is no exception. Most of today’s IoT devices are closed ecosystems: The smart fridge doesn’t communicate with the smart thermostat, for example. The reason for all of this separation? The technology providers creating IoT devices stick to proprietary systems to defend their share of the market — which is expected5 to be worth $151.4 billion by 2024. Still, as smart home adoption grows, the need for interoperability grows, too — and it has top companies that might otherwise be interested in being the sole smart-home-solutions provider investing6 in interoperability solutions to bridge the gap.

“Interoperability is critical for the smart home to give homeowners the best experience. If a system can only work with a set number of devices, it limits the functionality and ease-of-use that makes it valuable to the user for safety, convenience or entertainment,” says Brad Hintze, senior director of product marketing for smart home company, Control47.

The company helps devices work in concert by connecting devices of all different types and communication protocols to talk together, for routines or “scenes:” For example, if you’re going to sleep at night, your system can be customized so that one button in your bedroom or a voice command turns off the lights across the house, adjusts the thermostat and lowers the blinds.

interoperability for smart homes

For all of the devices to work together on the platform, Control4 relies on interoperability standards like Z-Wave8, a wireless networking protocol created in 2001 to help home automation devices work with each other. The company has since evolved into a consortium of over 700 member companies supporting Z-Wave called the Z-Wave Alliance, which facilitates the interoperability of over 2,600 certified products for smart home, security and home automation.

For product manufacturers to include Z-Wave in their smart home devices, their products must undergo Z-Wave certification to ensure that all Z-Wave products work together regardless of brand, including backward-compatibility between versions. Z-Wave certified devices also require mandatory implementation of the Z-Wave Security S2 Framework, the most advanced security for smart home devices and controllers in the market today. Once certified, Z-Wave technology connects devices using a mesh communications protocol stack, a set of device profiles, a wide selection of transceiver chips and modules and a finished product certification program.

Letting Data Communicate with Data

In the future, if the machines can collect data and communicate with one another, machine learning can begin to analyze that data and, over time, act. Most devices today are driven by these rules-based commands, where data is triggering a set of predetermined commands.

“Their ‘smartness’ mainly comes from their ability to react to changes in the environment, but not necessarily to each other,” says Coyote Jackson, director of product management for PubNub,9 a global Data Stream Network (DSN) and real-time infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) company.

PubNub’s gateway technology connects smart devices to a global network to offer interconnection capabilities. For machine learning to leverage data effectively, Jackson says the data exchange needs to occur in such a way that very basic data is stored on the devices, using software development kits (SDKs) that connect any time the device is operational.

interoperability for smart homes

Facilitating full communication requires not only SDKs, but also a common programming language or application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs that today enable IoT devices to communicate with our smartphones could also be written to enable the different languages from different device manufacturers to communicate with each other. With this type of system in place, blinds and drapes can send a request via the API to a weather monitor that says: “give me current cloud thickness,” then the weather monitor can reply with the corresponding information in a format that the sensors for the blinds and drapes understand—and react to.

“Without sufficient and rich data about users’ behaviors and choices, machine learning cannot recognize the preferences and be truly intelligent,” says Mochen Yang, assistant professor, Department of Operations and Decision Technologies at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business10.

The Long Road to Interoperability

Even once interoperability is possible, other technologies like a 5G network and edge computing  will be necessary to facilitate the data-sharing and machine learning required for a truly smart home. The increase in interoperability means these smart devices will need to record, store and act upon even more data than they already do.

Find Out More and Learn Why 5G is Going to Have a Far-Reaching Impact on Data

Connectivity is another hurdle: While the devices will store some information, much of the data they rely on is stored in the cloud. So the devices need to communicate with other technologies, like a router or hub, as well as with external resources on the internet, delivering the pertinent commands to blinds, shades and thermostats. The wireless connections need an increasing amount of bandwidth, while the devices need to be able to handle an increasing amount of data (whether native or in the cloud) as more devices are interconnected.

“All of the building blocks are there,” Jackson says, though he adds collaboration efforts are just at their nascent stages.

Still, with the worldwide smart home devices market expected to grow11 31 percent year over year in 2018 to nearly 644 million shipments, the industry will need interoperability, data and machine learning to truly deliver on the smart home promise.

This content is produced by WIRED Brand Lab in collaboration with Western Digital Corporation.



  1. Who is Using IoT Data and How?
  2. 8.4 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use in 2017, Up 31 Percent From 2016
  3.  5 reasons to get ‘smart’ about your thermostat
  4. What is Interoperability?
  5. Smart Home Market Report
  6. Investing in Interoperability for Smart Home
  7. Control4
  8. Z-Wave
  9. PubNub
  10. Indiana University Kelley School of Business
  11. Report: Smart Home Devices Forecast to Deliver Double-Digit Growth Through 2022

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