Arriving at CES I already had a good sense of what the “smart home” should look like. Home Automation is quickly becoming more and more affordable. It won’t be long now before every home builder starts marketing their homes as “Smart Homes.” After visiting with all the various vendors and chatting about their solutions I came to understand that there is no one size fits all solution. Some vendors do offer open source products like LG which are able to connect to the many different wireless languages available for your home, but the vast majority of them are building from the ground up.
First off…many people Ask: What is a Smart Home?
Well smart home equipment can also be called the Internet of Things (IoT). This basically means that everything in your home has some type of network connectivity and can send and receive information. If you can think of it, it probably exists. Imagine your fridge is connected and sending you texts to your phone when the milk has expired or if we take it to the next level it actually orders your staple groceries when you are out and has them delivered to your door. Some of the more common and practical devices for your smart home are lighting and blind controls, security cameras, and motion sensors. The rest is only limited by someones imagination.
The Race to Standardization
Getting all of these products to work together will require a standardization of the language used across all new smart home products. This is very important because eventually we will need a basis for all components going forward. This will become the ecosystem of your home. Right now it’s a race, and some will say they are better than others but the winner will be the one who reaches the mass market first. All other products will either have to fall in line or disappear. It reminds me of the Blue Ray Vs. HD Battle we had years ago back in the mid 2000’s.
You already see companies promoting how they integrate with product like Sonos and Nest. I don’t think either of those manufacturers need to advertise again as other companies integrate into their products they do the advertising for them Personally I have a 3rd Gen Nest thermostat at home and I think its great.
So you are familiar with them some of these languages that are in this ecosystem race are AllJoyn, Insteon, ZigBee, Bluetooth, Zwave, oneM2M, and WiFi. My personal observation from CES looks like ZigBee and Zwave may have the largest network of compatible devices.
The ZigBee Alliance consists of around 450 different vendors all creating on the same language to give you access to their ecosystem of the Internet of Things. ZigBee is a mesh network that essentially has the signal jump from point to point until it reaches the intended destination. With Zigbee they utilize the 2.4GHz ISM frequency band which can potentially give you interference with WiFi and Bluetooth. The range for this alliance can run from around 10-100m with LOS required. Since the signal jumps from node to node it may require extra nodes in order to get Zigbee to transmit throughout your house.
You can visit the ZigBee website to learn more about their alliance and the product range that is offered by their retailers.
With Z-Wave you get around 375+ Vendors within their alliance. Z-Wave also utilizes a mesh network but the main difference is the frequency band that they utilize. Z-Wave uses the same sub-GHz bands that Symphony Link uses, which in the US is the 915 MHz ISM band, and in Europe is the 868 MHz RFID band. You can visit the Z-Wave website and learn more about their alliance.
With so many choices available it can get a little overwhelming where to start. To cover off your bases you need to build a sound network foundation that is scalable and can handle the connectivity of all these devices in your Smart Home. If you are looking at building a new home, work with your developer to ensure their homes have the options available for this digital age. For a home that is already built you will want to work with your local IT professional to assess your space and advise you on what options are available.
Your next question is what does it take to handle these new Smart Homes?
Well this really depends on the space you are working with and what you want to have controlled. We mostly work with customers who are interested in creating the auditory experience. Different music playing in various rooms with individual audio control. We also see many of our customers looking at powered window blinds so with the push of a button the lights can dim, blinds close, TV/Projector turns on and then you can start a movie experience.
We are however getting more of our customers asking about motion sensors, IP cameras and automated lighting. What it takes to handle what ever technology you are looking to introduce in your home is a small scaleable home network. You should work with your developer to run as many Cat6 or Cat5e cables through your home to support the possibility of something that needs to be controlled in that room. Once all the cabling is run you want to explore the various options for routers, switches and wireless access points to build the foundation for “smart home” devices to be added.
The Future of Smart Homes
Right now the competition for the smart home market is massive, and slowly but surely the dominating companies will come to the forefront as the mass market begins building smart homes. This could take three or four years or it could take another decade before it becomes a standardization in new construction. Only the future will tell and it’s an exciting time to be in the Smart Home business.