Alibaba partners with MediaTek for smart home and IoT Initiatives

Alibaba announced on Wednesday that A.I. Labs will partner with MediaTek, a Taiwan-based global semiconductor company, on the Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives including smart home protocols, customized IoT chips, and AI smart hardware.

“We are excited about partnering with MediaTek to explore collaboration in the IoT ecosystem. Our AI and cloud computing capabilities, along with MediaTek’s cutting-edge technology in chip design, provide unique advantages to our connectivity solutions for smart homes, offering real benefits to consumers in China and paving the way to a more connected world through innovation.” said Miffy Chan, Head of Alibaba A.I. Labs.

At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 event, A.I. Labs and MediaTek inked their agreement and introduced their new Smartmesh solution that supports the latest many-to-many Bluetooth mesh networking technology—a critical connectivity technology designed for IoT applications.

The solution, which is based on the Labs’ self-developed IoT protocol named IoTConnect and the new Bluetooth chips co-designed by Alibaba and MediaTek, will allow IoT home devices to automatically pair with Tmall Genie, Alibaba’s Amazon Echo-like voice assistant.

As IoT technology advances, the smart home market is seeing tremendous growth. According to Zion Market Research, the global smart home markets size will reach $ 53.45 billion by 2022, growing at the rate of 14.5% a year. Chinese Internet giants including the BAT (Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba) are all scrambling to get a slice of the massive market pie.

The IoTConnect protocol aims to promote unified connectivity standards among smart devices. For consumers, this means they will be able to instantly connect to multiple devices all at once through a single portal, without the hassle of dealing with different apps and passwords. And for IoT companies and smart hardware manufactures, having a unified connectivity standard could help them lower the costs normally incurred in developing device connectivity. All in all, this will facilitate the development of a voice-controlled smart home ecosystem.

Last November during China’s online shopping festival, Tmall Genie became the only smart speaker to sell over a million devices in China. The milestone, however, poses a challenge for the tech giant—to build a smart home ecosystem which entails streamlining hardware and software interconnectivity and usability.

“Bluetooth mesh technology has the advantages of being open, low-cost, high-efficiency…,” Miffy Chan, head of A.I. Labs, explained. Having a unified connectivity standard will “largely cut down risks and costs for smart home manufacturers. At the same time, making the [Bluetooth] chip available to the market can introduce a single standard for different brands and smart assistants of different platforms and help them cut down research expenses and time spent in negotiations,” Chan added.

The Smartmesh solution supports the latest Bluetooth mesh networking and Bluetooth 5 functionality set up by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the body that oversees the development of Bluetooth standards. The customized Bluetooth SoCs (system-on-chip), MT7581 and MT7583, for the solution are featured with Bluetooth smart mesh technology, automatic pairing, fast connection and low-power consumption. The two SoCs will be ready for the market in the second half of this year. This is critical for accelerating the deployment of the Tmall Genie smart home ecosystem in China.

Bringing together Alibaba’s edge in AI and cloud computing—MediaTek’s strength in connectivity and baseband, computing, and multimedia—the two tech leaders seem ready to break new grounds. “Through the agreement, Alibaba is set to become China’s first company to introduce Bluetooth mesh technology to the commercial market at scale,” the Alibaba said in a statement.