Open ecosystem of interoperable products is key for smart home growth: Insights from ZigBee Alliance

by Parks Associates | Nov. 3, 2016

Before attending CONNECTIONS™Europe in Amsterdam, Tobin Richardson, President and CEO at ZigBee Alliance, answered several industry questions:

Where do you feel the largest opportunity is for the smart home industry in Europe?

The biggest opportunity will come from the establishment of open product ecosystems. Lighting is ‘illuminating’ the way for many applications, and LED is a great way for product and service providers to gain entry to the home with products. Service providers currently “own” the customer experience because they control the choice of carrier network solutions. But in a world where there are open development capabilities, consumers won’t have to only take what one service provider offers - they will have many more options for bringing products of their choice into their smart homes.

What challenges does Europe face with rolling out new smart home products and services?

There are too many proprietary approaches and implementations. The path forward to market growth, satisfied customers and new revenue opportunities is to create an open ecosystem of interoperable products. The smart home market will not flourish if there is vendor lock-in. It needs more consumer choices for products and services that are easy to buy, install and use. The challenges really remain with demonstrating customer value, and getting past the cost-benefit hurdles consumers may see.

How will companies leverage the growth in the market in the next 12 months?

We believe the biggest growth will be in segments driven by the availability of open and interoperable solutions. Therefore, companies who deliver these kinds of solutions can focus less on technology and more on customer value. Customers need to have compelling reasons to buy, and products built on open standards deliver these reasons. They foster simplicity and an improved customer experience, and the value momentum to convert interest into sales. Latching on to open and interoperable solutions means forward-proofing for the consumer, and will be important to a different kind of lock-in.

Who are the most important players for the European Smart Home industry?

Consumers are the most important players! And right now, those are finding their way mainly through service providers, managed service providers, internet service providers, utilities and more. And the only way to serve the consumer needs is to offer products that use open, global standards. Fortunately, they are changing their business models – look at British Gas and Hive. By demanding that these standards be supported and embraced, the industry will unlock the full potential for smart homes through a large ecosystem of much higher-value products and services.

Do you believe consumers are skeptical about the value of smart home products?

Yes, and they have every right to be. Right now, the smart home market is replete with cost-prohibitive product and service offerings. We need less complexity too, to provide a cost-effective and useful product set. Lighting is showing promise as a way to demonstrate that, and hopefully we can all build on the back of that straightforward proposal to help. Further, there are too many different hubs – specifically, too many proprietary hubs. Take a moment to consider what has worked to date. We know that consumers can simply drop Wi-Fi and ZigBee into every hub and immediately have a media- and smart network-capable house. End of story. Wi-Fi and ZigBee have proven upgrade paths for forward-compatibility, and proven ecosystems of interoperable products. Battle-hardened, these two should be the cornerstone of every smart home on the planet, and provide a model for moving forward in the future.

What is the biggest obstacle to the adoption of products?

There are two primary obstacles – value, and ease of use. One of the best ways to cross these two hurdles is to deliver brand interoperability. The moment consumers are confused about which brands work together, we’ve lost them.

We are looking forward to hearing you present, but what are you most looking forward to about the show this year?

I’m less interested in new technology, and more interested in hearing about new consumer services and value propositions. Yes, the underlying technology is complex, but the real challenge is, and should be, how we can deliver the smart home experience that consumers care about. This should be the greatest area of focus for product and service companies.

Richardson will speak on the session “Seamless Interoperability: Standards in IoT and Smart Home” alongside speakers from ULE Alliance, Thread Group, Sigma Designs, and Bluetooth SIG.

For more information on CONNECTIONS™ Europe and how your company can become involved, visit

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