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Road to Home Automation Standards Paved with Good Intentions

Will ZigBee succeed where CEBus, LonWorks, UPnP, SCP, HAPI, WSD and countless others have failed?

At CEDIA Expo 2000, Panja (pictured), Microsoft, Lantronix, Premise Systems, Smart America and others demonstrated their interoperable products in the UPnP Pavilion.
Julie Jacobson · May 25, 2009

ZigBee is jockeying to become the standard for home automation.

Welcome to the club. At least a dozen promising initiatives before it have tried … and failed.

Here is a brief history:


This is where it all started. The Electronic Industries Alliance (now the Consumer Electronics Association) wanted a home-control standard soooo bad in the 1980s, and spent oodles of resources to create the Consumer Electronics Bus (CEBus). Primarily a powerline-based protocol, the standard was supposed to be the backbone of utilities’ demand side management (DSM) initiatives. Intellon was the main technology provider for CEBus but went on to bigger and better things, namely, broadband over the powerlines – HomePlug.

From a 1991 IEEE Paper:

Summary:It is pointed out that the writing of the CEBus standard will provide utilities with new concepts in load management and automatic meter reading (AMR). It will be possible for homeowners to have an important role in the load management responsibilities. As homeowners begin to purchase appliances outfitted with the CEBus option, such as water heaters and air conditioners, utilities will be able to communicate with the appliance by power line carrier through a CEBus meter. As a value-added benefit to the utility for installing an intelligent meter, the utility will be able to obtain a monthly meter reading


Developed by Echelon, a longtime player in the control business, LonWorks powerline technology is well established in the industrial space. In parts of Europe and Asia, LonWorks has a following in the residential market – some 27 million LonWorks-compatible electrical meters are installed in Italy – but the effort has fizzled in the U.S.

It’s not for a lack of trying. In the 1990s, LonWorks battled CEBus for the automation-over-powerline title. CEBus was being pushed by the EIA and LonWorks fought to become an EIA standard too. LonWorks became ANSI/EIA 709 in 1999.

That didn’t help Echelon in its quest to make LonWorks the standard for home automation, most notably because it was too expensive.

Echelon cleared that hurdle in 2005, but we haven’t heard from them since.

Echelon Takes Another Stab at U.S. Resi Market (2005)
Over the years, Echelon has cleared several obstacles to residential adoption of LonWorks powerline technology.

Microsoft Enters Home Automation Fray

Since LonWorks and CEBus, we’ve seen myriad efforts at creating a real standard for home control. Most of those efforts have been driven by Microsoft and friends:

Universal Plug and Play
Developed primarily for connecting Web-enabled devices, UPnP was on the path to becoming a home-control standard as well. In the late 1990s, Panja (previously AMX, and now AMX again), Smart America, SMART (which became GE Smart) and Premise Systems led the charge in the home control space.

Microsoft, too, helped to develop device control protocols under the UPnP Home Automation & Security working committee but it never went anywhere.

Home API
Microsoft and Intel Promise Interoperability through New Home API (10/98)
HAPI is open industry spec being defined and developed by Compaq, Honeywell, Intel, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric and Philips Electronics

UPnP Merges with Home API to Streamline Connectivity, Control (12/99)

For home-networking professionals who’ve wondered where Universal Plug and Play ends and Home API begins, there’s good news: The two initiatives have merged into a single effort.
Confusion has surrounded the two standards because they appear to be so similar—both are being driven by Microsoft and supported by the same companies (especially Compaq, Honeywell, Mitsubishi Electric and Philips Electronics); both tout plug-and-play connectivity; and both have a common enemy—Sun Microsystems and its Java community.
But the two home-electronics standards are in fact fairly different. Home API is a Windows PC-oriented standard for home-automation applications, while UPnP is an Internet protocol (IP)-based standard for discovering electronic devices on a home network.

Simple Control Protocol (6/2000)
New ‘Simple Control Protocol’ is Link between Internet and the Light Switch
Microsoft teams with GE and CEBus-oriented technology firms to produce definitive home-control protocol

SCP inches closer to reality, but potential implementers are noncommittal (2/02)
When the SCP devices were plugged into AC outlets, they appeared automatically on the Windows XP computer, ready to be controlled

Web Services for Devices
The Microsoft crew had yet another go at a home-control standard with Web Services for Devices (WSD). Newcomer Exceptional Innovation (Lifeware) based its Media Center-based home control system on the platform and has tried hard to get other manufacturers to follow suit.

Since Microsoft wasn’t doing it, Lifeware created the device profiles for numerous home-control subsystems and opened them to would-be partners.

So far, however, there have been few if any takers, leaving Lifeware to create drivers for third-party subsystems, like everyone else in this business.

Q&A: Seale Moorer, Exceptional Innovation (12/06)
EI founder talks Windows Media Center Edition, Vista and WSD.

New Gateway Bridges ZigBee Devices with Web Services (11/06)
Allows ZigBee devices to be automatically discovered and controlled by WSD-enabled systems.

Using Web Services to Control Devices through Vista Media Center (4/07)
How a ZigBee light switch automatically appears on a Vista PC, ready to be controlled.


Don’t count out Z-Wave. ZigBee’s archrival for low-rate, two-way RF communications is winning the home automation battle so far. Some 200 products from myriad manufacturers are available, and for the most part they’re all interoperable.

Critics argue that Z-Wave is not a “standard” because it is not allied with any recognized standards body. Currently, only Sigma Designs, which acquired Z-Wave developer Zensys last year, is making chipsets for Z-Wave.

And More

“HomeRF"was a wireless networking specification for home devices to be connected to each other. It was developed in 1998 by the HomeRF Working Group, a consortium of mobile wireless companies that included Siemens, Motorola, Philips and more than 100 other companies.

Open Service Gateway Gets Real (5/99)
AMD, Diamond, Domosys and IBM Pervasive demo OSG-type gateway for remote networking and control

OSGi Gains Steam (4/01)
Some 200 industry professionals attended the member meeting for the Open Services Gateway Initiative, held Feb. 27-March 1 in Dallas. It was the first event in which the usually-quiet OSGi invited analysts and select members of the press.

HomePlug Closes in on Low-Rate Powerline Spec for Automation (3/06)
The HomePlug Powerline Alliance—the group that anointed the first viable powerline standard for high-speed networking—is turning its eyes to the low-rate automation business.

Why H.A. Manufacturers Fail: Revisited (7/07)
We’ve come a long way since January 2006, but all-IP home automation has a long way to go.


Microsoft saves the day? (WinHEC 2002)

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics

News · Home Automation · All Topics
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