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 Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), 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, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) 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.
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.
@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!
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?
_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?
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?
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.
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.
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