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Are You Ready for the Smart Home Race?

It seems everything must be smart and connected these days — people, phones, cars, buildings, electrical grids, and even our homes. Entire smart niches are being carved out, and everyone up and down the electronics supply chain seems to want a piece of the business.

Chip suppliers like NXP, Intel, and Dialog Semiconductor, along with utilities and multinationals like General Electric, are introducing platforms and technology that can create machine-to-machine communications between lights, washing machines, TVs, refrigerators, and pretty much any other home appliance.

There was even a Smart Homes 2011 conference this month in Amsterdam for smart home pioneers and smart metering experts, and companies like Google have developed projects to demonstrate the usefulness of energy monitoring. In the last few days, my eyes have landed on headlines about phone companies and mobile service operators elbowing into the smart home space.

Germany's {complink 1560|Deutsche Telekom AG}, for instance, is talking with Asian and US electronic device and appliance OEMs about jointly boosting services to manage data exchange between networked household machines. According to Businessweek, Europe's largest phone company is having conversations with “big name” Japanese and Korean companies on smart homes. It is aiming to generate a billion euros ($1.3 billion) of sales by 2015 from such machine-to-machine services.

In the US, {complink 5926|Verizon Communications Inc.} is offering a Home Monitoring and Control Service, which was unveiled this year at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. For $9.99 a month, the service will let customers “remotely check on their homes and control locks, lights, thermostats, appliances and energy use.” Here's a video showing how this works:

Monitoring household activities, energy use, and whether the coffee maker is off and won't burn your house down makes some amount of sense. Knowing what's going on allows people to take corrective steps and make choices about the way they use — and save — energy, which the environmentally-friendly side of me says, “Right on!”

Naturally, too, a number of companies will have to be involved to make such initiatives mainstream. Appliances need to be designed with chips and sensors that respond to household changes and feed information to utilities. Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, and companies like these have established relationships with the end-user, so it's probably logical that they extend their reach to interface in this way, too.

But — and there's always a but — it's not clear how many consumers need this service or really even want a smart home. For me, it feels a little too much like Big Brother, and being an urban dweller, I'm not particularly comfortable having all the data about my household's machines and energy-related activities floating around in the cloud, in cyberspace, or on some company's server waiting to be hacked.

The price point seems affordable, but it may be hard to convince people, especially now on the edge of another economic dip, that it's really worth it. I already track my energy use the old-fashioned way — by reading the bill when it arrives — and I would like to know that I would be saving much more than $10 a month through all this interlinked machine data.

Then again, maybe what companies are selling is peace of mind and the ability to turn on a light automatically before you fling open the door. I guess there's value in that. In any event, there are business opportunities here for companies supplying components for these products. If your company isn't already in this space, figure out what's holding you back, research the market potential, and ask if you're being left behind.

19 comments on “Are You Ready for the Smart Home Race?

  1. t.alex
    October 14, 2011

    What kinds of standardization that brings all these technology together in smart home?

  2. DataCrunch
    October 14, 2011

    I am an advocate for connected people and devices, so I may be biased in my opinion on this.  But with any solution to be broadly accepted, there must be value in the service.    In theory, by having a “smart” home, which would be much more energy efficient, should produce more savings than the homeowner is outlaying in utility bills.  

  3. prabhakar_deosthali
    October 15, 2011

    With evrything getting connected to the outside world ,  the owner of the house will be no more in command of all those gadgets that he possesses in his home.  His power appliance will communicate over the smart grid and decide when to switch themselves on or off !  His notebooks will decide themselves that a new book needs to be downloaded from the on line library. His security gadgets will automatically send alert to the centralised security service as soon as he moves out of the house and so on.

    Imagine what hazards can happen if there is breach of such personal automatic communcations. What if the control is taken over by the people with evil motives.

    Those concerns have to be addressed now before the technology spreads to the common people.

     

  4. Clairvoyant
    October 15, 2011

    Agreed, Dave. The alarm company I have my home with has already been promoting Smart Home devices and energy saving options.

  5. saranyatil
    October 15, 2011

    Prabhakar,

    I really liked the angle in which you have thought, tomorrow they will become the masters and it will end up in great mess.

     

  6. Backorder
    October 15, 2011

    Privacy has always remained a concern with every new innovation. Be it the e-mail, VoIP, e-banking, e-commerce, social networks, and lately the NFC based payments. The technology has so far been able to address the security concerns beforehand and to our comfort levels. I don't see how security and privacy could hinder the next step forward in the smart world.

  7. _hm
    October 15, 2011

    What will be incremental cost of smart home? How complex will be home? Will all family member be able to use it effectively?

    And more important, do we need them all or is it required only for some critical equipments?

     

  8. t.alex
    October 15, 2011

    Imagine someone can hack to your home via internet and take over control. Yes, privacy is utterly important. It gonna need strong firewall and other protection measures at a cost.

  9. elctrnx_lyf
    October 17, 2011

    the privacy and security are important. I think this is the only way left to the ce companies for the future. Since the products those available currently have every thing in them except the connectivity and remote control. So I feel users will be slow but lot of urban and tech savy homes will accept these smart homes.

  10. Eldredge
    October 17, 2011

    I completely agree that privacy and security are a major concerns. The ability for external control and monitoring of every aspect of the home should not be taken too lightly. Icing on the cake is that we get to pay for the privilege.

  11. SunitaT
    October 17, 2011

    I completely agree that privacy and security are a major concerns.

    @Eldredge , true privacy and security are major concerns but big question is will these concerns discourage users from adopting smart homes ? I think smarthome providers will definitely provide added security features so that more and more people opt for smarthomes.

  12. Jennifer Baljko
    October 18, 2011

    Hi Everyone. Thanks for the comments. Seems like many of us have the same concern – smart home security and privacy. So, if those are the biggest issues, how can component suppliers, OEMs and software developers address them before the hardware and software hit our doorsteps? Are there market opportunities for them, or is this something the mobile services companies will have to figure out (kind of like how banks had to do the heavy lifting to make online banking a generally safe environment). Any thought on how companies may be layering in solutions for this possible threats?

     

  13. Jennifer Baljko
    October 18, 2011

    _hm – good questions. I don't know about the consumer cost side, and would guess it would depend on which devices you buy to act as “hubbing” contol center device (I image something that acts like a router, collecting infor from various pieces of equipment) and the monthly or annualy service fee a company would charge for the monitoring services. In order to get traction, I imagine many providers will try to find the most attractive price point.

    Complexity – that's another valid point, and also probably depends on which devices are hooked up. Turning on lights is something different than monitoring the energy usage of all your appliance, and that's differenet than having your fridge order milk from an online grocery store when it senses you need more. 

    Anyone with a smart home willing to share personal insights about the costs and how you have things set up?

  14. Eldredge
    October 18, 2011

    Perhaps…I know I won't be in the front of the line.

  15. Tim Votapka
    October 18, 2011

    Smart home tech is entertaining material to talk about, but a necessity? I don't see it yet. If you want a light on before you come home…buy a plug-in timer at your local hardware store, they work forever. If you have a vacation home you're concerned about, then get a security system. The point is, the technology is already available without the cost or privacy consideration.

    Or, you could do something with your iPad or Ipod as in http://www.smarthome.com/iphone_apps.html  Again, cool, but necessary?

     

  16. Eldredge
    October 18, 2011

    @Tvotapka … great point. There are many ways to address some of the home security and efficiency needs. And I for one am tired of having yet another hand in my pocket for a monthly fee that increases by 50 to 100% after the 1st year is over!

  17. _hm
    October 18, 2011

    Perhaps it should be incremental approach. There are many functions, which needs upgrade like smart home offers. But it is to be introduced gradually so people can use it effectively and get friendly with them. In subsequent steps, they will adept technology much fater and may be willing to pay more. Also, they sholud also be able to select what they need.

     

  18. Eldredge
    October 19, 2011

    It seems like this is an area where it would be feasible for someone to set up their own computer-controlled devices and eliminate a service provider from the equation.

  19. t.alex
    October 20, 2011

    That is a good point. There are home-connected products which allow people to DIY without paying monthly to the service providers.

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