Home Automation: No Longer Sci-Fi Nor Wealthy Privilege
Editor / Provider: Tevin Wang | Updated: 1/3/2012 | Article type: Residential & Consumer
“Clap on! Clap off!” It started with the clapper, a device first sold in the 80s that allowed people to turn their lights on and off with a burst of applause. Home automation (HA) has come a long way since the clapper and offers much more beyond lighting control.
The global HA and control systems market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 16.1 percent from US$16.9 billion in 2011 to $35.6 billion in 2016, according to MarketsandMarkets research. Only one of the four segments of this market, namely luxury systems, will be significantly impacted by the recession, as it is relatively mature and will feel the greatest impact from the recession, according to ABI Research. Two other segments — standards-based mainstream HA systems and HA as a service — are so new that they have much room for growth starting from 2010. ABI Research found the number of HA systems — both professionally installed and DIY — will surpass 4 million units in 2013.
Since more devices nowadays are smart, connected and omnipresent, the smart home is no longer a concept or the privilege of a few. HA is coming to a home near you, at an incredible speed and increasingly affordable prices.
Affordability and usability have plagued home automation (HA). HA systems have not only been too expensive for most people to set up in the past, but they have been difficult to manage as well, said Craig Pyle, Director of Product Management, Vivint.
“Some providers have made HA very expensive and very complicated,” said Mark Ingram, President of Visonic (a Tyco Security Products company). “Many manufacturers of HA products have come up with smaller, affordable packages that provide simple yet useful features. I also think providers tend to think about HA as large and complicated systems for the wealthy when they could sell a lot more if they ‘dumb it down.'”
System integration and usability were difficult and complex. In the past, there were not many service providers offering bundled packages from security to entertainment, said Justin Choy, Asia Representative for Home Automation. Even for engineers, the integration could be thorny. Control devices could be problematic as well. Difficult to use and hard to understand devices retarded the development of more sophisticated HA because they give consumers a bad impression of how such technology works.
“The two main causes underlying the slow uptake were the cost/ perceived value and the control unit,” said Andrea Baratta, MD of MTS Intercoms. “Things are slightly changing with IP technology, more reliable protocols and better management devices such as tablets and smartphones.”
Today, there are several factors driving the adoption of HA. “First, there has been a convergence of technologies that make home automation easy to use for almost everyone,” Pyle said. “Access control, lighting control, energy management and video are seamlessly integrated in a single platform. HA access through the Internet and mobile phones allow users control of their system without physically being in the home.”
TCP/IP spread like virtual wildfire and ignited the possibility of HA going mainstream. “All security solutions are moving to IP technology,” said Marc Cuadras, Export Area Manager, Golmar. It simplifies network structure and reduces wiring equipment and installation costs by unifying traditional video, audio, data and control cables into one Cat 5 or fiber-optic cable. Besides more bandwidth, it supports remote control over the Internet and expandability. The networkagnostic approach in TCP/IP makes it easy to use any existing network infrastructure, thus allowing more HA devices to be connected to an IP network. Such integration capacity and the cost-effectiveness of sharing the same infrastructure demonstrate huge potential in the future.
Better management devices with touch screens and user-friendly interfaces are innovations that turn what once seemed like sci-fi into reality. Instead of pushing button after button, touch screens allow customers interact directly with what is displayed. Also, customers can do so without any intermediate devices that would need to be held in their hands. Touch screens give customers easy access to HA systems and they work like magic.
Security and HA requirements differ by region and not only for communication frequencies and protocols. In some regions, home security is only used when no one is home while in others, it is only used when people are home, Ingram said.
Usage of different HA products depends on the maturity and perception of the market. People in North America hear more about home area networks and HA than anywhere else in the world, except for Korea, said Bob Heile, Chairman of the ZigBee Alliance. Korea is similar and even ahead of North America in some ways. In these markets, people want to control things around them. In Europe, HA is seen as the central appliance for energy management instead of the general-purpose environment, Heile said. HA is targeted to specific things such as smart appliances, programmable thermostats or remote controllers. Some Asian countries such as India and China are starting to notice HA. Customers in China, for instance, still do not know how HA can help manage home living, since customers tend to associate HA with home theater systems, Choy said. “Customers need to know that HA systems include security, fire, gas detection, access control, home appliances, lighting control and HVAC control.”
The requirements from wealthy and average homes are similar. They differ by services provided and amount of devices. In a high-end home, there are more peripherals.
The design and installation for stand-alone homes is very straightforward, while apartment buildings are more complicated. This is not only due to project size , but also the number of stakeholders involved. For apartments, building management, maintenance and construction teams need to be consulted.
In apartment buildings, where the intercom serves as the first line of security, security systems may be more focused on notification for each apartment unit. Stand-alone homes are more open and may install more intrusion detectors and alarms. However, as far as the end user is concerned, most of the services are the same. [NextPage]
With so much riding on a single system, the data transmission must be stable and secured. The whole HA system is normally connected to a hub or central station. It should have backup features so that all subsystem functions are unaffected if the control panel stops working, said Khalifa Al Jaziri, MD, E-Home Automation International.
The control panel should be equipped with tamper protection, Pyle said. Some panels offer multiple communication paths, such as GSM radio and landlines for redundancy.
A backup server can be installed locally or remotely as a fail-safe mechanism, Baratta said.
When selecting HA systems, customers are making an investment in their homes. Ease of use, scalability and warranty are the top considerations for buyers.
Ease of use is the most direct and fundamental concern. After all, HA systems function as helpers rather than homeowners serving their households. “There is no point installing a system if end users cannot operate it,” said Al Jaziri.
Baratta added that it was better for end users to handle products before they purchase them.
For scalability and warranties, customers must consider how easy it is to add on or upgrade additional devices, Pyle said. It is also important whether upgrades can be added by end users themselves or by a service technician. Moreover, customers should ask system providers the cost for ongoing service and support. With the prevalence of smart devices, customers should understand how to use the system installed and whether they can control it remotely.
Convenience, security and comfort are HA values, while customization is key. A reliable service provider should be fully committed to the needs of customers in terms of ease of use and functionality, Al Jaziri said.
“The service provider should also be able to provide customers written details of what they are providing, including all the components and devices, warranty information, as well as installation, account activation and any monthly recurring fees associated with the HA system,” Pyle said. “Customers should also be provided contact information for customer and technical support following the sale.”
HURDLES TO OVERCOME
Integration and interoperability are challenges that remain in HA. There is no cost-effective and easy way to include all subsystems, such as intercoms, video, intrusion, home appliances, HVAC, fire/gas detection and utilities, Cuadras said.
For intercoms, the biggest challenge is combining the elements in the home according to the specific requests of the real-estate developer, said Ricardo Ebri Sambeat, GM of China and IP Division Director, Fermax Electronics. Managing multiple venders for different solutions and matching their requirements is another challenge.
Integration of preinstalled subsystems is difficult at best, unless the consumer is purchasing a high-end HA system where all the subsystems are part of an integrated solution, Pyle said. “Integration is many times a cost-prohibitive option for consumers.”
Integrated security and surveillance management require seamless integration with third-party security systems. The system needs to have an open platform or platform independence to facilitate such integration. Unfortunately, manufacturers tend to use their own protocols and products, thus limiting configuration choice, Ebri said.
Wireless solutions may be an alternative since it simplifies both installation time and cost. For intrusion detection, wireless solutions provide flexibility for repositioning, Ingram said.
It was previously difficult to install a wired intrusion detection without ugly wire casing strips being visible and affecting the interior aesthetic. However, with the advancement of wireless technology, it does away with unsightly wires throughout the home.
However, wireless intercoms are difficult to install in apartment buildings. Construction materials such as cement require a wired approach, since wireless communication could suffer interference and transmit weak signals, said Chun-Ho Ko, Manager of Kocom.
After-sales service and system maintenance pose another challenge. Managing large complex systems demands great skill in system management, operations and upkeep of the system deployed. [NextPage]
HA systems will no longer be confined to two niche markets: luxury custom-designed systems and DIY systems, according to ABI Research. Systems are becoming more mainstream. Managed HA, driven by broadband and telecom service providers, will show the strongest growth of all, with an anticipated 1.3 million shipments in 2013.
Despite various telcos and broadband ISPs eyeing the HA market, traditional security providers remain confident about their expertise.
One of the greatest advantages telcos/broadband ISPs have is their data pipeline direct to the residential security and HA market. “However, these companies fall short in a number of areas,” Pyle said. “First and foremost, their expertise is not in home security and HA. Traditional security installers and service providers have years of experience servicing the customer in this market. There are also many questions for telcos/ISPs on servicing and supporting security and HA customers. It is yet to be seen how these companies will cooperate/ compete with current industry players.”
Being large organizations, telcos/ ISPs will partner with the biggest manufacturers, which prevent prices from being competitive. Moreover, this allows traditional security providers to remain the preferred option, Baratta said.
“I think it is great that the telcos are getting into security again. It creates more demand for industry professional service providers, as the telcos advertise and promote their offering,” Ingram said. “We also have to take into consideration what end users think about telcos offering HA, since not everyone will want a ‘cable' provider to handle their security.”
Other security experts saw the entry of telcos/ISPs as a great opportunity of cooperation. Telcos and ISPs need system integrators to support their infrastructure and leverage know-how, Al Jaziri said.
FUTURE OUT LOOK
The gloomy economic outlook and plummeting home prices affect HA uptake, as residential development is closely tied to construction. “The trend we see is the need for retrofit solutions,” Ingram said. “Installers are looking for ways to grow their business by entering existing homes and buildings and retrofitting with wireless alarm systems, eliminating the need for adding to or modifying existing wiring.”
Compared to the rest of the world, the recession hurt Asia least for residential security up take . For the most part, countries with booming construction and infrastructure development have plentiful opportunities, such as India and China.
It is important that real estate developers think beyond traditional services and identify the desired purpose, experience and performance of each development. Existing and new properties need to be transformed into the buildings of the future.
Digital technology can be a tool to boost real estate values. An important aspect of today's most innovative and valuable real estate is connectivity — the ability to facilitate communication and interaction among buildings and digital infrastructure.
With many countries developing their IT infrastructure and countless people signing up for broadband and mobile service, IP-based systems are gaining greater acceptance.
Apartment building owners are beginning to see the benefits of IP-based systems, particularly for completely new projects, as they save installation time and cost. When this foundation is laid, IP-based technologies will grow.
“Manufacturers and service providers in the residential sector will continue to be driven to compete on price,” Pyle said. “As margins become tighter, they will need to look to new products/services and innovation as a means to be competitive and relevant. There are opportunities for real savings with integrated energy management solutions.”
Al Jaziri envisioned huge potential for energy management integrated with HA systems. “We believe that the custom installation industry will wane during the next few years — the companies that are smart and look to take advantage of energy savings, the smart grid and the smartphone revolution will take center stage.”
Eco-friendly benefits, such as reducing carbon footprints, may seem abstract. However, when it comes to paying one's utility bills, homeowners grow in creasingly energy- conscious. By integrating energy monitoring features into HA systems, homeowners can see real-time energy usage and cost spent. Furthermore, customers can reduce energy use and costs by controlling how and when specific devices use power — particularly during peak pricing or load periods, and in a way that fits with their lifestyle and priorities.
“By 2020, every UK home will have a smart meter, meaning your home will have a real-time dialogue with your utility company, changing prices and usage dynamically in real-time based on peak demand across the whole country,” said Dave Bell, CEO of Vesternet. All smart meters can then be paired with other HA devices, such as door sensors or smart sockets for reducing energy consumption. [NextPage]
“Smartphone adoption continues to grow in the marketplace,” Pyle said. The ability to monitor the home via smart devices is a trend, since smartphones and tablets are changing user habits and gaining ground as the primary interface of HA systems. HA systems now offer apps to let customers use mobile devices to control them. Growth for remote monitoring and access control is very promising, as homeowners find new benefits and advantages to the system. These benefits include providing remote access to service professionals, monitoring children and babysitters through network cameras.
In Asia, most of the population live in apartment buildings. HA system providers and intercom manufacturers collaborate closely with construction companies. Despite the HA market in China being young, more construction companies use HA as a selling point. The concept of a smart home, smart community and smart city are continuously promoted, said Guangyao Tang, Deputy GM, Leelen Technology.
Vendors have to think outside the box and find nonsecurity uses for their systems. “After understanding our system offer more than just security, users find it a good way to keep up with what is happening in their homes,” Tang said. HA and building automation have sparked serious interest from Asian homeowners and apartment owners.
“HA has rarely been a hot button for consumers,” Choy said. “Usually they're looking for something else, like a home theater.” Continued education is required for customers to understand the benefits of HA for better and more efficient home life.
Despite the economic downturn, variables for success lie in cost effectiveness, integrated solutions and advanced technologies with user-friendly interfaces.
Seamless integration of products is the key to a reliable HA system. An HA system glues all subsystems together so they can operate as one cohesive unit. Homeowners can adjust their smart home to their preferences, based on their habits and behavior. HA provides value to residential customers, while also providing revenue for security service providers. Never before have operators needed to widen service portfolios more than they do now. For new market entrants, the time to act is now, as the connected home promises to transform operator revenue streams, with total revenues expected to exceed $231 billion by 2016, according to a Visiongain report. Once a concept, the connected home is now a reality.