DotDot: Connecting the dots
A common language has been defined for smart devices across home networks. Paul Skelton reports on the introduction of Dotdot 1.0.
If two people buy walkie-talkies that use the same frequency they can certainly connect to each other; however, if they don’t speak the same language they can’t really achieve anything interesting.
That’s the analogy used by Daniel Moneta, executive vice-president of corporate development at MMB Networks, to emphasise the importance of smart device interoperability.
“Only with a common language can we work together to do valuable things, especially if we’re from different places and have never met before,” he says.
Daniel is also the marketing workgroup chairman for the Zigbee Alliance and is a member of the marketing workgroup for Thread Group.
The Zigbee Alliance has recently partnered with Thread Group to improve interoperability among Internet of Things (IoT) devices by defining a common ‘language’.
In January 2019 the partners made substantial headway with the release of the Dotdot 1.0 Specification and the Dotdot over Thread certification program.
Victor Berrios, vice president of technology for the Zigbee Alliance, says the new Specification is designed to ensure that the ever-increasing number of IoT devices can communicate seamlessly and instantly.
“A few years ago, the Zigbee Alliance decided to decouple the application layer from the underlying Zigbee network,” he says.
“This is what ultimately became Dotdot. We then decided to partner with Thread Group because we actually share a lot of members and have some common technologies.
“We have since completed the development of the specification and are now editing the document to get it published. We hope to open the certification program for Dotdot over Thread later this quarter.”
This launch will allow developers of smart products to use a mature, open and certifiable interoperability language over a low-power internet protocol (IP) network. It will reduce product development risks and roadblocks, enable new IoT applications and improve the consumer experience by reducing IoT fragmentation.
Tom Kerber, senior director of IoT strategy and custom research at Parks Associates, says the integration of Dotdot over Thread will move the industry forward by providing interoperability across different home networks through the Dotdot application framework.
“This kind of co-operation across the industry, vendors and standards organisations is critical to the widespread interoperability – and success – of smart home devices,” he says.
Dotdot (named for its ‘ability to connect the dots’) is a universal language that makes it possible for smart objects to work together on any network.
Victor says the new specification details how to represent Dotdot objects and the interactions between them in an IP-friendly manner.
“Basically, it’s a way you can do the things Zigbee does today on a Thread network.”
So, how did all of this begin?
“Zigbee was developed 16 years ago with the mission to create a wireless mesh protocol to support the wireless sensor network. This was before the IoT was the IoT.
“We soon realised that just having devices operate on the same network wasn’t enough. There was a need for an application layer that would make definitions in terms of capabilities and functionalities.
“So we went ahead and created an application layer, which we have been deploying into the smart home, smart metering and smart lighting markets for many, many years.”
Later, the Alliance noted that many IoT technologies were being introduced that promoted different methods of connectivity.
“There was a lot of focus on connectivity and how to bring all these devices into the one network.
“What we saw as lacking was an application layer to help devices find each other and have meaningful interactions.
“We believe our technology is currently the only one that supports the IoT. However, there will be a handful of successful connection technologies – just not as many as there are now.”
Victor says the primary goal of the Zigbee Alliance and Dotdot is to bring some order to the sector and help technology to converge at the application layer to increase the market.
“We want to make it easier for people who are making, specifying, installing and using these products to build and understand these networks.
“Our application layer is where we can help. It has been successfully deployed many times, so it’s well built, proven and tested. Other technologies don’t have the application layer, or are just starting to work on it.”
Victor says Dotdot is not simply another standard being added to a market that is saturated with proprietary standards. Rather, it is a new way of representing an existing standard.
“We’ve had this standard running over the Zigbee network for about 10 years now. We haven’t created a new way for devices to interact, just a new way of representation.”
The new Dotdot specification is backwards compatible with existing Zigbee networks and can be introduced with a simple software upgrade. Victor says installers don’t need to be familiar with Zigbee in order to use Dotdot.
He estimates an initial wave of 20 companies to release Dotdot certified products when the certification program is launched.
“We expect a second and third wave of suppliers as the new specification gains traction. They don’t always tell us they’re working on something until they come seeking certification.”
Most companies working with the new specification are in the home and lighting control sectors, but all aspects of the supply channel are involved to varying degrees.