By Cees Links, CEO and Founder, GreenPeak Technologies
Are you ready for the smart home? According to a recent report from Nextmarket Insights, the current home automation systems and services market is about 3.6 billion and is forecast to grow to around 15 billion by 2017. Other companies and research firms estimate 100 billion connected devices by 2020. Yes, the numbers are all over the place but the trend is obvious.
But why now? What happened? One important factor is that the world’s leading cable MSOs, broadband service providers and telcos have finally recognized the potential of the home services market and are beginning to offer a wide variety of new home automation and connected home services. These include home security, home health monitoring, temperature monitoring & control, energy management, remote locking and unlocking of doors and windows, turning lights off and on, water and gas leak monitoring, etc.
The funny thing is that most of these home monitoring technologies have essentially existed for many years but until recently, their use has mostly been restricted to those “early innovators” who could make the various disparate services, hardware and components talk together. However, with the emergence and acceptance of ZigBee, there is finally a worldwide standardized wireless communication technology that enables easy installation and communication between the various devices. ZigBee!
In many ways, this is very similar to what occurred with WiFi. Fifteen years ago, there were a variety of incompatible wireless networking technologies that were battling for world dominance (who remembers HomeRF?), but eventually a single worldwide standard emerged – IEEE802.11 aka WiFi. The acceptance of WiFi enabled various industries to start developing and manufacturing products that not only could talk to each other, but would operate worldwide. It also allows product companies to ship one product to the worldwide market, a major logistical advantage.
This is now what is happening with the Smart Home and ZigBee.
In fact, almost every new set top box or gateway device already has ZigBee built into to it to connect to the device’s new wireless RF remote control. This means that many households already have a ZigBee network, but the residents don’t really know it.
So what is ZigBee?
ZigBee can be considered as the low power version of WiFi. It is the same basic technology but because it only sends small amounts of data, it does not require a lot of power. ZigBee uses a similar radio technology as WiFi, operates in the same 2.4 GHz band, transmits through walls, floors and furniture and its range covers a good sized home.
Whereas WiFi is optimized for large data rates, ZigBee is optimized for small bits of information. In the home, WiFi is very effective for transmitting video, music, and voice throughout the house while ZigBee is optimized for carrying very small on and off messages from sensors.
ZigBee requires 1/100,000 or less of the power required for WiFi
Because of ZigBee’s low power requirement, there are even variety of devices that will not require any power source at all. For example, light switches and lamps, already on the market, are a good example. By flicking the on off button on the switch, a tiny amount of power is produced. This small amount of electricity generates enough power to send a simple on/off signal from the switch across the room to a lamp with a ZigBee receiver, turning the light on or off. Of course, the switch signal could also transmit to the home’s central set-top box or home control unit, controlling multiple lights and even other devices, as programmed by the homeowner.
Using ZigBee, a wide variety of Smart Home sentroller devices will not only talk to each other, but to the end users via a remote control, web interface and/or a SmartPhone.
What does the ZigBee based Smart Home Architecture look like?
Imagine a houseful of sensors of various types – monitoring temperature, motion, location, leaks, noise, etc., all talking to a central home gateway that has both a local remote control or dashboard as well as a cloud connection that in turn can be accessed by a Smart Phone or smart device form anywhere in the world. This will enable to the homeowners to manage and control a diverse spectrum of home conditions either from within the home or from anywhere they can get an internet connection.
In the really smart home, there is an intelligence at play that links together the various sensors to enable a single sensor to provide various roles within the smart home. For example, a motion sensor in an empty house can function as part of security solution. The same sensor could function as an earthquake warning, triggering shut downs of gas and water utilities. The motion sensor could also function as human movement status alert, monitoring the movement of people within the home to make sure they are healthy and mobile. In yet another way, it can be used to recognize individual members of the family and then customize the home’s response for lighting, entertainment and environmental conditions to match the preferences of that specific person.
The Smart Home is rapidly approaching. Driven by the need by the cable operators to explore new revenue generating options such as home services, and facilitated by the arrival and acceptance of the worldwide ZigBee standard which enables devices from various manufacturers to all talk and work with each other.
Cees Links is the founder and CEO of GreenPeak. Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed, ultimately becoming household technology integrated into PCs and notebooks. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers, and hotspot basestations. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the WiFi Alliance. And, he was instrumental in establishing the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee sense and control networking.
In 2005 Cees started with GreenPeak Technologies. GreenPeak is a fabless semiconductor company and the leader in the ZigBee market with a rich offering of semiconductor products and software technologies for Smart Home data communications and the Internet of Things.
GreenPeak Technologies is a fabless semiconductor company and is a leader in ZigBee silicon solutions for the smart home. GreenPeak is privately funded. It is headquartered in Utrecht, The Netherlands and has offices in Belgium, USA, Japan and Korea.
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