As of today, Amazon has a seat on the board of the Zigbee Alliance, which oversees implementation of the Zigbee wireless protocol. Zigbee isn’t nearly as popular as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but you can think of it a lot like them – it’s a wireless protocol for letting gadgets communicate. But unlike Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, Zigbee is particularly useful for low-power devices and can travel longer distances, making it ideal for simple smart gadgets like a light switch.
Amazon introduced a version of the Echo, called Echo Plus, with Zigbee support more than a year ago. That support allowed the speaker to directly connect to a new world of smart home gadgets, like light bulbs, power outlets, and tiny sensors that it otherwise couldn’t have reached. The home alarm system for Ring, which Amazon owns, also connects to Zigbee.
It’s a slow start, but Amazon’s ascension to Zigbee’s board suggests the company will want to make more use of the protocol in the future. Other companies on Zigbee’s board include: 1) Samsung-owned SmartThings, which makes a smart home hub; 2) Signify, the company behind the popular Philips Hue smart lights; and 3) Comcast, which uses Zigbee on its Xfinity Home security solution.
Getting onto Zigbee’s board isn’t exactly a feat for Amazon, but it is an obvious and deliberate decision. Getting on the board means becoming one of the Alliance’s highest-paying members – $75,000 per year – and it gives those companies an significant advantage: they’re able to “drive specification development, requirements, and test plans.” Or basically, define where Zigbee goes next.
If Amazon is paying that money, it means the company wants a say in what future versions of Zigbee can do and how different Zigbee devices work together. It also shows Amazon taking an opinion on which smart home standard it’d like to see win out. Zigbee’s most direct competitor is an alternative called Z-Wave, which hardware makers have criticized for relying on proprietary chips from a single company. Amazon is likely among the many companies in the smart home industry that would rather avoid dealing with the pricey parts that could come along with that if Z-Wave were to grow in popularity.