The growing smart home - connected home industry
The smart home device is about to explode. According to a recent report from Nextmarket Insights, the current home automation systems and services market is about 3.6 billion and is forecast to grow to around 15 billion by 2017.
This market growth will be driven by a newly emerging homes service market where various cable MSOs, broadband service providers and telcos will be offering a variety of new home automation and connected home services. These include home security, temperature monitoring & control, remote locking and unlocking of doors and windows, turning lights off and on, as well home health monitoring, water & gas leak monitoring, etc.
This market requires a variety of technology solutions – sensors, controllers and actuators – the various devices for the Smart Home that together can be labeled as “sentrollers”. In addition, the market will require set top boxes and/or home control boxes – the central router for all the home’s automated systems, as well as for entertainment and broadband access.
There are a lot of opportunities for the companies who make any of those devices.
The interesting aspect of this is that the technologies that enable the home services space have essentially existed for many years but until recently, their use has mostly been restricted to those “early innovators” who were willing to go the extra distance to make the various disparate services, hardware and components function together. However, with the emergence and acceptance of ZigBee among the leading cable companies, telcos, service providers, etc., there is finally a standardized wireless communication technology that enables easy installation and communication between the various devices.
This is very similar to what occurred with WiFi. At first, there were many different and incompatible technologies that were battling for acceptance but eventually a worldwide standard emerged – 802.11 that enabled various industries to start developing and manufacturing products that not only could talk to each other, but would operate worldwide. This is also what is happening now with the Smart Home and ZigBee.
With Comcast leading the way, almost all cable companies have decided to embrace ZigBee and are starting to roll out set top boxes with ZigBee radio chips inside. Even though many of the first generation boxes are primarily using ZigBee to provide a reliable and robust connection for local remote controls, the ZigBee connection also serves as the means for adding many other smart home and connected devices.
ZigBee is a lot like WiFi – it uses a similar radio technology, operates in the same 2.4 GHz range, transmits through walls, floors and furniture and can cover a good sized home. The big difference is data rate and power requirements. Whereas WiFi is optimized for large data rates, ZigBee is optimized for small bits of information. WiFi is very effective for transmitting video, music, and voice throughout the home while ZigBee is optimized for carrying very small on and off messages from sensors. So even though ZigBee has the same range and performance as WiFi, because it carries so much less information, it requires much less power to operate.
This means that ZigBee is ideal for devices that are design to operate without a connection to a power line. Sentroller devices using ZigBee can be totally wireless making installation easy for the average consumer. With a battery embedded inside, all the consumer has to do is to turn it on and let the network find the new device. Of course, depending on the device and its function, there might be some kind of configuration process or online web dashboard to facilitate programming and setting up the device to work the way the user wants. The point is that the communication process with the existing home ZigBee network will be seamless and almost automatic, in the same way that hooking up a new WiFi device to your home network is today.
As a result of the big push by service providers to put ZigBee networks into every home, combined with the international standardization success of ZigBee, this means it is a great opportunity for sentroller device makers to enter the Smart Home market. Or, if they have already made a foray there, they should add ZigBee to the communications protocols of their existing and future devices.
Early Smart Home applications were expensive as well. With the new generation of low cost ZigBee chips it is now possible for sentroller device makers to design, build and market Smart Home devices for under five dollars each.
The market is about to take off and device makers do not want to be left on the outside, wondering why they missed the bus.