IoT is in the house: Decoding the tech behind smart homes

By Rajiv Kapur

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a much hyped term these days. Nowhere is that hype more evident than when it comes to the home automation market; a segment that’s primed for $16.4B in growth by 2019 alone. For today’s technology-adept consumers the idea of a smart home is a compelling one. Most already have in-home wireless networks, so the idea of leveraging that network to remotely control a home’s air conditioning, heating, lighting, security, and appliances like refrigerators, washers, dryers, and dishwashers seems like a logical next step. In doing so, they gain the ability to better manage their home’s energy usage and ensure it runs more smoothly. Best of all, they can control their home’s smart devices and systems anytime, anywhere using just a smartphone or other computing devices.

These are attractive benefits to consumers around the world and particularly in India where an increasingly tech savvy population has begun clamoring for smart home automation and control applications. Here, the home automation market has evolved from just heating and air conditioning (HVAC) and security systems to include such things as energy management, entertainment, fire detection and lighting systems as well. Increasingly, home automation is also being viewed as a key part of India’s smart grid initiatives.

 IoT is in the house: Decoding the tech behind smart homes

Rajiv Kapur, Managing Director, Broadcom India


With India’s home automation market growing at roughly 22 percent per year (according to TechSci Research), the country’s increasing acceptance and adoption of the smart home is hard to deny. However, broad deployment of certain technologies will be essential for the market to reach its full potential. These include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Smart, Wireless Charging and a robust Broadband network.

Wi-Fi

Wireless connectivity that connects smart devices to a home network is essential in the smart home. 802.11 ac technology represents the fifth generation of wireless technology (known as 5G WiFi), delivering a dramatic increase in bandwidth and data transfer reliability. Up to three times faster and six times more power efficient than its predecessor, 5G WiFi delivers eight times the capacity and broader coverage with fewer dead spots.

Because it operates in the 5-GHz band, 802.11ac more efficiently uses the air space shared by all wireless technologies. Essentially, it transmits data through the air at a higher rate, enabling devices to get off the channel faster and leaving air for other devices to transmit and receive. As a result, 802.11ac realizes a dramatic reduction in Wi-Fi network congestion.

As an added benefit, 802.11ac is backward compatible. This is especially important given the huge number of Wi-Fi devices already in use. Having the backward compatibility ensures 802.11ac devices will be able to connect to existing 802.11 protocol networks operating in the same 5-GHz band, albeit at slower speeds.

Bluetooth Smart

Another key technology driving the transformation of the connected home is the development of a low-power communication technology known as Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). With Bluetooth Smart, products are able to function with so little power that batteries can potentially last for months or even years on a single charge.

While the power-efficiency of Bluetooth Smart makes it perfect for devices needing to run off a tiny battery for long periods, the magic of Bluetooth Smart is its ability to work with an application on the a variety of mobile devices.

With Apple iOS and Android both supporting Bluetooth Smart, an ecosystem of low-energy smartphones has already begun to form. Bluetooth Smart makes it easy for developers and OEMs to create solutions aimed specifically for the home automation market such as wireless security cameras and smart energy devices including lighting and temperature control.

Wireless Charging

According to recent reports, the average US household already charges up to 10 devices at any one time and that number is expected to rise as the number of connected devices continues to surge. Imagine charging multiple devices, including a smartphone, tablet and smartwatch on a single surface – no more fussing around with multiple chargers and outlets.

Wireless power, which allows users to charge multiple electronic devices without the use of a cable, promises to finally cut the cord for good. While wireless power technology has been around for some time, its evolution from first-generation inductive technology to second-generation resonant technology is now promising to take it mainstream.

Resonant wireless technology features a simple transmitter antenna design for multiple receiver support, a comprehensive wireless power control system using Bluetooth Smart communication, and has the ability to transfer power through non-metallic surfaces. The technology is convenient and simple to use and its spatial freedom allows multiple devices to be simultaneously charged with one transmitter and without the need for precise alignment.

The convergence of the efforts of the industry toward one standard based on resonant technology and availability of a single end-to-end wireless power solution will go a long way in driving wireless power into the mainstream.

Robust Broadband

The backbone of any smart home is a robust broadband network. In India, for example, an effort known as the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) aims to provide broadband coverage to remote areas of the country. The project, which is being overseen by Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), will use existing optical fiber to provide Internet access, as well as a range of Internet-based services and applications, including smart home applications such as smart meters and appliances.

In addition to public Wi-Fi access and high-speed broadband Internet service, the national grid will enable innovative services across the nation, including remote learning (e-learning), medical diagnostics (e-health) and broadcast town-hall meetings (e-governance). Telecom service providers and cable television operators will be granted non-discriminatory access to the NOFN to launch various services in rural areas.

So what can India’s consumers expect in the smart home of tomorrow? First and foremost, the conveniences they already enjoy will get even better. Smart appliances with unique connected features will make their way to market and into the home. Smart innovation will extend from the home into the agricultural sector. Robotic sprinklers, for example, will leverage real-time data from weather stations, millions of square miles of soil samples and comprehensive plant biological information to help farmers and homeowners alike to make intelligent decisions on when, where and how much water to deliver.

From smart garage door openers, air purifiers and appliances to home security and robotic sprinklers, the possibilities are endless for the home automation market. Today, thanks to ongoing, breakthrough innovation throughout the IoT ecosystem, the reality of a truly connected home may be closer than we think.

The author is Managing Director, Broadcom India.

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Updated Date: Apr 01, 2015 16:11:24 IST