Thanks to big names like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T entering the home automation space using M2M, consumers are finally cozying up to the idea of the connected home. However, as history has showed us, interoperability and open platforms will likely be the key to widespread adoption. In the past, device makers have focused on building proprietary systems and software, but as consumers slowly build their stash of smart devices, interoperability will make it easier for homeowners to naturally build their own home networks.
This is especially true with short-range connectivity technologies like Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Z-Wave. Several developers are already starting to create solutions that incorporate all of these technologies, even if they aren’t actively being used.
The widely known smart thermostat Nest, www.nest.com, for example, uses Wi-Fi to send heating and cooling data to the cloud, but it also has a ZigBee chip built into it. The chip isn’t currently being used, but as Kate Brinks, Nest corporate communications manager, confirmed to Connected World, ZigBee was included as part of the design in an effort to “future-proof” Nest. Specifically, Brink envisions homeowners linking the thermostat to the smart grid or even whole-house technology systems.
Anticipating this trend, several technology suppliers are developing technology that supports several communications protocols. Chip giant Texas Instruments (TI), www.ti.com, for example, recently announced its HG3352 Home Gateway Reference Design. The simplified reference design links home energy systems that use ZigBee to any Wi-Fi router so consumers can monitor or control their smart energy devices or home automation systems in the palm of a hand via smartphones or tablets. The reference design also supports ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet connectivity right out of the box so that developers can create home gateways that can interface with multiple systems, products, and applications within a smart home.
Similarly, Redpine Signals, Inc., www.redpinesignals.com, developer of wireless chipsets, has released its RS9113 M2MCombo chip. Said to be one of the first of its kind, the chip integrates dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and dual-mode BT 4.0 wireless connectivity, making it a universal solution for most M2M communications applications.
As a convergence device, the RS9113 chip is designed to maintain connections on some or all interfaces—Wi-Fi, BT 2.1+EDR, BT 3.0, BT 4.0, and ZigBee—presenting a virtual simultaneous connectivity. So, for example, a gateway device implemented with the combo chip could communicate with a medical sensor with single mode BT 4.0 connectivity, a smartphone with BT 4.0/Wi-Fi, or an HVAC device with ZigBee connectivity without the need for multiple modules from various vendors. With this type of flexibility, developers could certainly get multiple products to market even faster.
Clearly, the age of standalone systems is coming to an end. In today’s world, variety is indeed the spice of the connected life—not only for developers, but for consumers as well. If the connected home is truly ever going to take off, the industry needs to start by making it as easy as possible for homeowners to connect the smart devices they already have, and maybe even give them the option to shop around as they grow their home network. The good news is that it appears we are finally moving in the right direction.
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