Last week, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) — formerly known as the Zigbee Alliance — showed off new branding for what used to be known as Project Connected Home over IP. Now called Matter, the protocol is designed to ensure interoperability between many common smart home devices and various related ecosystems.
Along with the branding, the CSA said it would work on creating some new standards associated with the smart home and smart buildings in addition to the Zigbee protocol and Matter. In the meantime, I’ve learned that one of the new standards will focus on access control.
The CSA is working with Apple, Amazon, Google, and Assa Abloy (which owns the Yale and August lock brands) to create a radio standard that can locally exchange tokens to open door locks. I don’t know what the standard is called, but Tobin Richardson, CEO and president of the CSA, confirmed that an access control standard is in the works.
The standard may involve NFC, but it appears to focus on creating a method of opening doors without requiring a connection to the internet. Currently, most connected locks users need an app on their phones to unlock them, or they require the lock’s owner to grant them a one-time code. But if the lock’s owner gets a request for an access code while away from the lock and the person at the door doesn’t have an app already downloaded they can’t get in. Never mind the fact that few people want to download an app just to get one-time access to a door.
Those behind the new standard hope to reduce reliance on the cloud. It will use a radio to locally exchange secure tokens, and might use NFC, according to a source who spoke with the CSA about the standard, but could also involve other radios. There’s definitely a trend of using established radios and layering another protocol on top of them, as is the case with Amazon Sidewalk or even Matter (which uses Thread or Wi-Fi). Companies can already do this in a proprietary manner using Bluetooth, but a standard would make life easier for consumers and for manufacturers.
Bluetooth might be an option, or NFC. NFC is already used in phones to enable secure payments. Part of that security is designed into the protocol; the rest is due to the fact that NFC radios only work when they are within an inch or two of eachother. A universal standard for unlocking doors with phones or other devices could be valuable.
Lee Odess, the CEO of Group377, a consulting firm serving the access control industry, says that a standard could help manufacturers ensure their products have better digital security while letting them focus on what they do best — making the locks.
“I don’t know if we need this standard, but we do need a standard,” he told me. “It can make things more predictable, such as battery life or the way it functions, and can help with security. And depending on the standard, it can help eliminate lock-in and allow for plug-and-play devices.”
In the commercial world, the Open Supervised Device Protocol standard, which was developed by the Security Industry Association, lets keycards, access control software, and locks work together. The CSA and the parties working on the new access control standard clearly see a need for this in the consumer world, and I am curious to see what they release.