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Increased Interest in Intelligent Homes
By the Editorial Team 2010/5/27

More homeowners are interested in building automation, marking a migration to IP-based systems and closer integration. With countless luxury apartments across Asia, smart homes and buildings increase comfort and safety for residents.

More homeowners are interested in building automation, marking a migration to IP-based systems and closer integration. With countless luxury apartments across Asia, smart homes and buildings increase comfort and safety for residents.


IP-based systems are gaining greater acceptance, thanks to national investments in IT infrastructure, and greater connectivity for more people through broadband services and mobile telephony. Integration is becoming popular, not only for security systems, but with building or home systems such as elevators or entertainment centers. Simple integration, such as video door phones linked to elevators, is now common for new high-end apartment buildings.


Growing IP Interest
Apartment building owners are beginning to see the benefits of IP-based systems, particularly for greenfield projects, as they save installation time and cost, said Rojarek Joraka, Account Executive of Far East Creation. Homeowners, on the other hand, prefer analog systems as the wiring is less complicated and they have tighter budgets. However, upscale homeowners are showing real interest in IP-based systems.


Apart from cost, the biggest problem is the network. Close partnerships between Internet service providers and video surveillance vendors need to be established. "We need to ensure notification when the network faces technical issues while customers are logged in, to be able to put recovery plans in place," said Charles Lim, Country Manager for Singapore, ADT Security. Redundant communication includes GSM/GPRS, broadband and public switched telephone network line communicators.


Home and building owners are curious about IP-based systems. "It appears that users are happy with the features, and if there is any hold up, it is due to the cost and complexity of router configuration," said Brian Lohse, Director of Business Development, Secure-i. For homeowners, most IP-based systems rely on the user's upstream connection to send data to a central station, while most users' Internet browsing activities are downstream-intensive. For this reason, typical activities are not affected by installing IP-based surveillance systems.


If bandwidth is compromised, such as when users stream HD to watch a movie, the data from the surveillance system will flow at a slower rate because the pipeline is full. "In this situation, we see frame rate degradation," said Martin Worndl, VP of Product Development at Lorex. "You can still get high-resolution video images, but frame rate may be compromised and video can become choppy."


Having interoperable and remote control capabilities through mobile phones is an added bonus for IP-based systems. Most smart phones can use software to view video streamed from a DVR or straight from a network camera through a GSM-over-TCP/IP network, Worndl said. "All of our IP-based devices stream video to 3G mobile phones now." This has quickly gained popularity in the last six to nine months.


Building owners are concerned with network stability. "It's not about routers, cameras or the home automation system. These devices are easy to install. The challenge often lies with the network — which could cause a problem if it is down or responds really slowly. Other challenges include fiber optic or copper cables being cut, either accidentally or deliberately, which could bring the entire IP-based systems to a halt," said Shrikant Shitole, VP of Transformation and Managed Services, India and SAARC, Cisco Systems.


Integrating Systems
Plans to integrate systems should start at an architectural level. "In our experience, homeowners in the Philippines seldom prepare for surveillance or intrusion alarms in their electrical layout plans, which makes it difficult for integrators and installers to do their jobs," said Mark Tan, Sales Manager for Security Products Division, New Datche Philippines. Installations for high-rise condos and other housing developments are different, as they usually have these layouts ready.


Security systems are usually purchased and installed as an afterthought. Unfortunately, this means that most systems are stand-alone. Fire and safety, access control, intrusion detection and video surveillance all operate as independent systems, which means that building managers often need to manage more than four systems, Shitole said. "In India, residential campuses have been switching over from physical guards to automated systems. In the next few years, we should witness more integration of technology in this space."


Efforts can be seen for simpler integration, in alarm systems and video door phones. Intercom terminals can be connected to alarm panel modules for real-time alarm information. "If an emergency arises, the alarms will register in the intercom, allowing users to press a panic button on the intercom to call for help," said Juan Campos, Regional Manager for APAC, Fermax. This lets homeowners communicate to the central control room.


In China, apartment buildings typically have their own control room, as opposed to homes linked to external alarm monitoring companies, Campos said. Since this is where all the building's information is received, it makes sense to link the alarm to an intercom in each resident's home. This way, residents have the necessary information to act if an alarm sounds.


Access control systems can also be embedded in video door phone systems, as well as car park systems. These applications are common in China, said Eric Zheng, Integrated System Director, APAC, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. "Video door phone terminals do not have card reading capabilities, but they often do have modules for card-based systems to be connected."


When users buzz a guest in through the video door phone, lobby or garage doors can be accessed. From the terminal located in the resident's home, an elevator call button can then be pressed, which sends a signal to the elevator control module, bringing the guest to the resident's floor, Zheng said.


Integrating access control and video door phones is basic. "You need to work with the door phone provider, as they must leave a space for your reader to be installed. You then need to consider how you want the two systems to communicate," Zheng said. "The challenge is that most video door phones do not operate on a software level, so they expect access control vendors to provide a dry contact to work with the reader module. This means that the process becomes twofold: verification is made within the access control system, then a dry contact is released to the video door phone."


Parking lot systems benefit from linked access control and audio intercoms. With long-range readers that detect cards deployed under screen shields, sometimes readers can over detect cards. This allows unauthorized cars closer to the garage door in, because the reader has detected the authorized card of a car farther away. In these cases, an intercom system is needed so that residents can ask security operators to manually lift the barrier and grant them access, Zheng said.


Video cameras are being deployed to verify alarms. "These cameras are installed with a traditional burglar alarm, and can transmit footage via GSM or a local broadband connection," Lohse said. "Some cameras and alarm systems offer two-way audio so that the dispatcher can verbally communicate with the user."


Combining all systems makes operations simpler. "Security guards are not very well educated and shy away from complicated systems," Zheng said. "You need to make integration as simple as possible, to take the burden off security guards."


Building and Home Automation
For residents, their interest in integrated systems lies in transparency. The fewer systems users need to learn, the better.


Smart access control systems can be integrated with elevators as well as building management. "With 13.56 Mhz proximity technology, you can read and write. Readers read information on the cards, but also write information back onto the card. All this information is added so that building managers can collect data and manage tenants' access profiles," said David Rees, Regional Manager of APAC at Salto Systems. "When function rooms are booked, for example, the same card used to access a tenant's home can be written to access the function room, during certain hours."


For single homeowners, it becomes more challenging to integrate. "You need software, and someone that understands taking input from one system and putting it into another," Rees said. Video surveillance, elevator management, lighting and so on, all require two systems to talk to each other. This means software and additional protocols need to be written.


However, home automation can be done at a simple level. Integration on the software side is typically done by the home automation provider, rather than the security system provider.


"Today, everyone's so focused on high bandwidth/high-performance video, HD and so on, that they forget about the low-beta rates, less glamorous, but far more pervasive and important products in our daily lives," said Bob Heile, Chairman and CEO of ZigBee Alliance. This market comprises home security systems, lighting, remote control units,entertainment units and so on.


"The technology is aimed at wireless sensor controlled network. You can put sensors and controllers in everything, which shares information with each other cheaply," Heile said. "To illustrate this, there are 10 billion devices shipped every year that have microcontrollers in them, including washing machines, compact fluorescent bulbs, refrigerators and so on."


Appliances that respond to electric signals help residents become smarter energy consumers. "For example, information about peak hours for drying clothes can become available if washing machines are linked to the home automation system," Heile said. "Users can then wait until nonpeak hours to dry clothes, saving them money."


Reaching Residents
Users are quick to adopt these technologies if they are affordable, easy to use and do not require a change in their habits, said William Diamond, CEO of Xanboo. "Enabling a user to lock or unlock their front door via a mobile phone is not changing a habit, it's giving them the ability to do something they already do, via a more convenient way."


Apart from convincing residents to purchase security or building/home automation systems, vendors need to find new and creative channels to reach users. Traditional sales channels, involving distributors and system integrators, take time to develop. "Our e-commerce customers and Web business is an excellent means of getting our products out to early adopters," Worndl said. Products sold through retailers' e-commerce business reach residents more quickly, particularly for users looking to spruce up their homes.


After-sales services are no less important for residents. Offering electronic and phone communication with technical support people reassures home users that they are being taken care of.

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