Connected Homes: Almost there!

Smart Lifestyle

Connected Homes: Almost there!

The smart home industry continues to evolve along the lines of connectivity and interoperability but many challenges remain. As the industry moves from closed to open ecosystems, business models will be freed up and continue to grow rapidly.

by Thomas Rockmann

I t has been an exciting few years in the world of the smart home and IoT. Not only has the industry innovated technologically, – it has evolved significantly to offer an enhanced range of entry models for enterprises and delivers better consumer value and recognition in the marketplace. From the many evolutionary strands visible today, it is possible to extrapolate the shape and trajectory of the smart home market overall.

As predicted several years ago, there has been fierce competitive pressure in the smart home market and consolidation has been rife. However, the result has been positive and can be summarized very simply – overall growth.

New open ecosystems will accelerate growth and create strong demand.

Thomas Rockmann, VP Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom

Iot Made in China: Thomas Rockmann - VP Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom

The researchers also singled out the value of the open ecosystem in this predicted growth, stating that the open ecosystem will rapidly accelerate growth, reaching a billion automation and monitoring devices by 2023, up from 176 million in 2018. One additional reason is the relative success and strong demand for AI powered smart speakers, particularly those that combine an inclusive ecosystem with an attractive price point – a redoubtable combination. The popularity of artificial intelligence digital assistants is certainly booming, with a recent Gartner report predicting that 25 percent of households will use them as the primary interface for connected homes services by next year. Major technology players are pursuing voice control and, currently, AI assistants serve two specific purposes: semantic assistance, by using AI to recognize not only the words or phrases, but also the context; and bridging the gaps between devices, services, and products, which is where the smart home market really benefits.

By blending devices and services from multiple sources, accessed via the AI overlay, consumers are divorced from the intricacies of technology and freed up to live their lives. One example is in leveraging AI for ambient-assisted living purposes, where the network of smart speakers in an average home can be activated by the user simply by saying “Emergency,” which triggers a confirmation response. If the response is affirmative, the service sends a preconfigured message to nominated people. These recipients can then “drop in” to activate two-way communications with the speaker – an immediate voice link to enable the correct help to be delivered as quickly as possible. The move from closed to open ecosystems is being driven by a host of variables, including a rapidly broadening range of business models. Pay-monthly, subscription-based services are a familiar concept, as are pay-as-you-go models. Utility companies are driving bundled services packages, by bringing together connected homes products with new green energy tariffs. For example, a German utility provider has launched a new combined offering, giving a smart home base unit to customers for the contract period of their electricity and gas tariffs to incentivize conversion.

Loyalty-based models have also seen significant uptake, where consumers are provided with the latest connected homes thermostats to significantly reduce customer churn. In other cases, insurance companies are partnering with third-party, smart home manufacturers of security products to extend their reach and user base.

Connectivity and Interoperability

Are Key While current business models are forced to work alongside a range of technical limitations, the diversity of business models will free up as these are lifted and will increase. As the story of the connected homes began with connectivity and interoperability, this will prove to be the future of the sector as well.

One area closely related to the connected home that has seen enormous expansion clusters around the connected car. As the number of hybrid and fully electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads increases, the number of traditionally powered vehicles containing onboard data connections will continue to skyrocket. Initially, these connections were used for telematics and diagnostic purposes, then for location and tracking-style applications, and only recently for non-core motoring functions. It was announced at CES 2018 that Amazon Alexa will be embedded into Toyota and Lexus cars later this year.

Deutsche Telekom has partnered with Volkswagen and its Car-Net App Connect to enable owners to seamlessly control their Magenta SmartHome via their car’s infotainment system. Using the control panel, the driver can activate or turn off preset scenarios while driving. For example, a scenario called Coming Home could be created so that the garage door opens and lights in the driveway and house entrance turn on when the vehicle returns home.

The changes that fully connected smart cars can bring to our homes and cities are significant. Electric charge points are springing up across towns and cities already and design changes in new homes have been made to accommodate charging stations. The expectation that home devices will be able to interface with the connected car is a genie that will not go back in the box. Whether future changes will be shaped more by environmental protection regulations or by consumers themselves is perhaps a moot point – but the changes have already begun.

Connected Homes - Car control

Car owners will be able to seamlessly control their smart home via their car’s infotainment system, activating or turning off preset scenarios on their way home.

Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta has created an open smart home platform upon which firms across multiple sectors can build growth strategies and exploit opportunities in the market, while developing and releasing their own home automation propositions. These products integrate into the platform’s open and interoperable architecture ecosystem, which has been designed to be agile and ever-expandable to support a wide range of partner and third-party services, solutions, and devices. Support, flexibility, connectivity, and interoperability are the overall themes for the smart home market and it is promising that the products and services that have seen success all rely on these elements to ensure uptake.

Connected Home - Open and interoperable ecosystems

Open and interoperable ecosystems designed to support a wide range of partner and third-party services, solutions, and devices will provide support, flexibility, connectivity ,and interoperability in the smart homes of the future.

Catering to the Needs of older Populations

One change that has been going on for years is the incremental shift towards an older population on a global scale as lifespans lengthen. This trend saw the phrase Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) coined some time ago, but the adoption of AAL technologies has been slow at best, often stalled by technological constraints and perceptual barriers. However, the rise of viable smart home products and services are already chipping away at this historic bulwark, solving both issues in one fell swoop. The wide range of smart home sensors coming on to the market, from water and moisture meters to smoke alarms and motion detectors, can easily serve dual purposes in an AAL environment. By networking sensors to communications devices, smoke detectors using Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications Ultra Low Energy (DECT ULE) could connect to mobile or fixed line networks to raise the alarm in the case of a fire related emergency, for example.

Connected Homes - Ambient Assisted Living (AAL)

As lifespans lengthen, Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) will play a bigger and bigger role, enabling a wide range of new smart home products and services.

Overall, the smart home industry is in rude health and will continue to evolve along these lines of connectivity and interoperability. There are still many challenges in the market, notably in keeping pace with the ever-present questions around security and personal data controls, as well as ensuring that complexity is kept to a minimum. This latter point is particularly important because ease of use and simplicity in use case are both essential in the overall value proposition. However, the smart home industry has advanced a long way in recognizing and mitigating these challenges already and will undoubtedly continue to do so.

As the rapid evolution of smart home technology uses directly results in the growing popularity of this sector, the future looks bright – and the future is connected.

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