Konkana Khaund's Blog

Connected Home - What is delaying it

30 Sep 2013 | by Konkana Khaund
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The concept of connected home has broadened over the last decade to encompass a variety of functionalities and applications that work inside a home to those that permeate beyond into the external communication environment. The incorporation of connectivity into existing automated or digital components changes the demand dynamics for connected home solutions greatly, as this enables the home owners to manage every aspect of the home and their lifestyle from any location, while also having the ability to save energy and money doing so. A simple home control or energy management system that a home owner can hook up to his or her in-home communication network qualifies to create the elementary framework of a connected home environment.

An average homeowner today uses smart appliances, home management and control solutions, security systems, information dashboards, etc in varying degrees, which are further combined with entertainment and/or infotainment, voice and data services, monitoring and diagnostic services. These functions and applications are dependent on an internal as well as an external communication environment or network, to carry communications that could enable various lifestyle supporting functions. Given the complexity of interconnection between these various networks for service delivery, increasingly the connected home concept is driving the need for single network solutions, where both internal and external networks run on an Internet protocol (IP) base.

It is not surprising to witness telecom providers taking the proactive ‘first steps’ toward enabling a connected home experience for the home owner. Building upon existing relationships with the home owner, these service providers are increasingly positioning themselves to cater to a myriad of connected home needs, ranging from security and alarm monitoring, to home energy management platforms, as well as remote access and on-demand mobility for home owners to operate their connected home systems from wherever they are. Some notable examples include:

  • ADT launched its complete home energy management and security monitoring solution - PulseTM in 2010, targeted at the mass market. Priced under $50 a month, ADT provides both the hardware and software for users manage their home security and energy usage from a Web portal.
  • Schneider Electric launched the WISER Home Energy Management System that allows home owners, utilities and third parties to monitor and control demand side systems. Offered as a smart grid ready system with weather-normalized information, TOU, etc, WISER is perceived as one of the most robust HEMs in the industry at present.
  • Verizon and Healthsense have partnered to help bring cost-effective wellness and health monitoring services to senior-living communities. The service is delivered to the residents using Verizon's advanced FiOS all-fiber-optic network and Healthsense's Wi-Fi based technology systems.

From a solution supplier’s standpoint, taking advantage of technology innovation and garnering the ability to expand their present revenue streams by selling additional products and services is an attractive proposition to be part of this evolving market. However, making connectedness happen is challenging both from software as well as hardware standpoint at present. While the physical layers of technology is becoming pervasive, the simultaneous developments in software and protocols that can make devices work seamlessly is yet to be achieved.

In order of impact, the issue of interoperability and lack of standardized communication protocols is one of the most significant challenges the connected home industry faces. The vast array of systems and devices are developed on a multitude of software platforms, often working as proprietary components within a home. Of course there are initiatives underway for more neutral standards with open frameworks so that systems and devices can interoperate and communicate seamlessly within the home and external network. And some product suppliers and services providers are incorporating those to the best advantage. For instance, ADT Pulse, which is a home automation service that features climate and lighting control and remote video monitoring. The system uses Z-wave wireless technology to enable the home area networking. The non- Z-wave devices can be made compatible by plugging them into a Z-Wave accessory module.

Multiple communications standards hinder peer-to-peer connections between devices in a home. This adds to a consumer’s lack of perceived value from these solutions, which are often higher priced than what an average home owner budgets for the same.

Among other challenges, a lack of initiatives from utilities home area networks, residential demand response and inadequate incentives to the home owner to adopt these concepts add to the delayed market adoption of connected home technologies and solutions. Consumer privacy issues are also not being addressed adequately at present, leaving consumers vulnerable to data theft and misuse, which in turn has resulted in a slow rate of adoption.

Although steps are being taken by relevant stakeholders such as utilities, technology vendors, application providers, etc, these challenges are expected to exert strong influence on the industry over the next decade.

Besides any neutralization efforts may get further delayed due to the fact that the existing connected home environment will have to continue to accommodate future innovations in products and technologies that will make their way into this industry. Additional smart devices and communication platforms entering the industry may render the present communication paths and processes inadequate.

The main issue that will continue to delay the industry from witnessing real connectedness is that propriety protocols are still widely prevalent, and the issue of sharing IP prevents seamless communication from happening between various domains of functionalities within the connected home. For instance, the home automation industry has only partially adopted open communication protocols. Majority of home automation and controls solutions do not easily interface with other home devices. Thermostats often do not work with IHDs, and there is practically no universal console that can bring together various silos of home controls and devices into one robust platform. While some working groups and industry alliances are actively pursuing open communication standards for home devices to be managed by any external third party, there is resistance from the suppliers of these devices and appliances to comply for concerns of prospective revenue loss.

Overall, it is clear that a more serious effort in moving towards an open environment for standards, protocols and technologies is necessary to take connected homes to an acceptable level of consumer adoption. Otherwise the penetration of various products and solutions will continue to remain modest at best over the next decade.