Recent Developments in Smart Home Networking
It wasn’t long ago when the thought of a remotely controlled connected home was limited to the realms of science fiction. Today, we understand the Smart Home as reality. From alarm and security systems connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), to smart refrigerators, and even automated garden sprinkler systems, Smart Home devices are becoming increasingly affordable and are gaining popularity at a phenomenal rate. However, as with any emerging technology, there are challenges to overcome. Besides security, connectivity is the biggest challenge for device developers and innovators.
Are current network solutions sufficient for Smart Home devices, and how do emerging technologies stack up against what we’re currently used to?
Connected Homes and Traditional Networks
Whether a home connects to satellite broadband, ADSL, fiber, or even a cable network, it is the local area network (LAN) that will serve the home’s connected devices. For the majority of installations, this means either a wired Ethernet LAN, a wireless (Wi-Fi) network, or a combination of both. Both wired and modern Wi-Fi networks can provide high bandwidth connections and compatibility with a range of devices, but they do have limitations when it comes to small devices and sensors that require internet or local network access.
In the case of an Ethernet LAN, connectivity would be unsuitable for some devices. With a traditional Wi-Fi network, power requirements can be high, especially when you consider that some Smart Home devices run on battery cells and only need to transmit small packets of data intermittently throughout the day.
Are There Alternatives?
When it comes to a large appliance, such as a refrigerator, LAN or Wi-Fi connectivity is not particularly inconvenient or inefficient. The same goes for smart devices like televisions, washers and dryers etc. However, with devices that can be moved around, or that may be located outside or in hard to reach places, there is a need for low powered network solutions. ZigBee, an emerging specification, could become a leader in low powered networking for Smart Homes.
ZigBee complies with the 802.15 specification, which means it transmits data over unlicensed frequency bands. This makes it ideal for use in private homes. ZigBee is efficient because it operates on a mesh network principle. This means that individual devices connect to each other by forming nodes within a network. As discoverable devices interconnect, the network becomes more efficient and stable. With a network like ZigBee, home users only need to use a single gateway to connect all of their ZigBee devices to an IP network, such as a standard home Ethernet or wireless LAN.
ZigBee is not the only low powered Smart Home focused protocol that is gaining traction. Z-Wave follows many of the same principles as ZigBee, including mesh networking. Z-Wave is a protocol that is already utilized by thousands of home automation devices.
Smart Home Wireless Networks Won’t Replace Traditional Solutions
While networks like Z-Wave and ZigBee are essential for the deployment of low power sensors and devices, they’re not direct replacements for the wired and wireless networks that are already being used in billions of homes.
Instead, these low power networks will complement and interact with existing solutions, allowing for efficient and versatile Smart Homes, with a range of automated functions and devices.
With other wireless technologies like Bluetooth 5 nearing finalization and release, the future looks promising for Smart Homes, automation, and IoT in the consumer space.
What’s your favourite home networking piece of tech? Any thoughts on the options on there? Feel free to comment below.