Smart Home as a Service – Still a Work in Progress
The way smart home-enabled devices will be installed and will operate is still evolving, and the same is true for the connectors and cabling vendors that supply the industry.
The nearly 31,000 residents that call the Shanghai Culture Garden home live in the four-square-mile enclave surrounded by Parisian architecture and Paris-style shops, truly a bit of France in China. One big benefit to residents, which goes even beyond the croissants, is that the locale is completely wired – a smart home writ on the neighborhood level.
One broadband cabling system acts as the backbone communication infrastructure for the entire community, on which the telephone, security, home office, and video-on-demand operate. The cabling network also runs the security gates, the lighting and water-level control, emergency broadcasting systems, and a plethora of other networks. Even the background music piped through the homes is run by the BIAS broadband system from Siemon.
To narrow that neighborhood network down to the individual home – to outfit a complete smart home, in other words – some companies now offer end-to-end smart home installation, so-called Smart Home as a Service (SHaaS). They’re getting a jump on an industry set to skyrocket, as technology research firm Gartner predicts that a typical family home could contain more than 500 smart devices by 2022.
But several issues cloud the SHaaS model, notably that the smart home market is still not mature, says Farshad Zarghami, director of product marketing at Cadence Design Systems, maker of electronic automation software like chips and circuit boards.
The way smart-home-enabled devices will be installed and will operate is still evolving, and the same is true for the connectors and cabling vendors that supply the industry.
The growth Gartner predicts has yet to fully arrive, Zarghami says. Right now, many consumers either don’t know what the term “smart home” encompasses, or they don’t see a clear value proposition for their own homes. Compounding this is the lack of standardization that has kept smart home technology from being adopted on a broader level.
While occupants of the Shanghai Culture Garden moved into the already-cabled community, current homeowners who’d like to create smart homes within their own residences may be confused as to how to start. Homeowners who struggle to set up a stereo surround-sound system – and even those who are more technology savvy – want expert help to install the technology.
They also want efficiency, such as a single app on their smartphones to control it all, and a single dashboard that enables the consumer to monitor and manage all their homes’ smart services with one single user interface, says Cees Links, general manager of Qorvo Low Power Wireless.
For his part, Zarghami has advocated for smart home needs to be delivered as an easy-to-use, ready-to-go service rather than a service that needs installation by a specialist. In his vision, the consumer would pay a monthly fee, following the same model television cable companies and other providers, like Netflix, do now.
But because homeowners generally don’t change out their devices – such as light switches or thermostats – for many years, smart devices should be designed such that they can be upgraded in the field in order to keep them operationally up to date. Most “white goods,” such as refrigerators, washers/dryers, and dishwashers, will likely use some form of Wi-Fi connection, according to Zarghami.
But the key issue for implementing SHaaS and monthly fee models won’t be addressed until a universal smart home standard has been agreed upon by vendors. Products now in use operate to a number of proprietary protocols, including X10, RS-485, ZigBee, and Z-Wave. The protocols aren’t interoperable and cannot work together on the same system.
In February, Qualcomm announced its Smart Home Reference Platform based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 processor, which is capable of providing services like voice recognition, computing, camera, display, audio, and connectivity and controlling capacity for smart hubs, home control hubs, and other multimedia devices.
Also unclear is whether the majority of consumers would rather contract a provider to install SHaaS or if they prefer to choose and install each piece of equipment themselves. Another variable is their performance expectations for connected devices in the future. For instance, a survey done by Cadence found that 60% of consumers aren’t happy with the smart home devices they use today.
“They don’t want to have to prompt their devices to complete an action. They want their devices to use data, analytics, and sensors to work on their own. However, if the devices are unable to automate themselves, voice-controlled settings and the ability to give instructions via text message are next-best scenarios from a consumer point of view,” Zarghami says.
Historically, systems have been sold as complete systems where the consumer relies on one vendor for the entire system including the hardware, the communications protocol, the central hub, and the user interface, which lends itself to SHaaS. However, open-source systems, which can be used with proprietary hardware, mean consumers can perform installation themselves. For now, residents must stick to a single device supplier.
There are, however, companies that make products that perform a single function that would need to be folded into the entire smart home operation. The August Smart Lock, which allows users to email electronic keys to one another, is also self-installed, with directions on the supplier’s website, says Jason Johnson, who created the lock while in the process of kitting out his own smart home using a number of supplier’s devices.
Molex has announced its recently introduced Power-over-Ethernet LED lighting system that works with wireless wall switches provided by EnOcean GmbH, based in Oberhaching, Germany. Molex will now include the switches as an optional part of its smart lighting package, called the Transcend Network Connected Lighting System.
By 2022 many homeowners will be able to turn on or lower lights with the touch of their smartphones, but how that lighting device will be installed or how consumers pay for it remains to be seen.
Author Jean Thilmany is a freelance writer and contributor to ConnectorSupplier.com.