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Security, assisted living usher 'smart home' in Asia

Posted: 13 Sep 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smart home? sensors? actuators?

The concept of the smart home is an offshoot of building automation wherein all electrical devices are integrated and control is centralised. This can cover everything from appliances heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting, and even security systems such as locks of doors, windows or gates. The popularity of the 'connected home' has steadily risen over the past few years largely due to the ubiquity of smartphones and tablet connectivity and the rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Tracing the foundation of home automation will lead us as far back as the late 1970s when technologies like the infrared remote control for appliances pushed the idea of a 'smart home.' The concept did not take off easily at that period mainly because the cost to acquire and maintain such a home was so expensive. Home automation systems then were also very inflexible that they could not be tailored for various lifestyles.

Fast forward several decades, the arrival of a new batch of technologies paved the way for home automation to be more viable and affordable. ZigBee, which is packaged as a low-cost wireless mesh network standard, was conceived in the late 1990s as a self-organising digital radio network alternative to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Because it is designed for embedded applications requiring low data rates and low power consumption, ZigBee is seen as feasible standard for the smart home.

GreenPeak CEO Cees Links

Links: MSO adoption is the tipping point for ZigBee to establish networking for sensors, controllers and actuators in every internet connected home.

One fabless semiconductor company, GreenPeak Technologies, proposes that expanding ZigBee networks in the home will open up multi-billion dollar markets for device developers. The Netherlands-based firm is offering chips- sensors, controllers and actuators-that enable device developers to build and market ZigBee-based smart devices starting at less than $5 each.

"Just like Apple's adoption of WiFi was the tipping point for the spread of WiFi networking to every internet connected home, the operator and service providers' adoption of ZigBee is the tipping point for Zigbee," comments GreenPeak CEO Cees Links.

In an interview with EE Times Asia, Links explained that the fundamental trends driving the increasing adoption of smart homes globally are security monitoring, energy management and assisted living. Links broke down said priorities into regions: "In the USA, or in the Americas in general the priority is security, in Europe it is energy management. In Asia we see a mixed bag: Japan is very interested in assisted living, other countries (China, Korea, Taiwan) are more focused on convenience and using gadgets to make life 'cool'."

Aside from China, Japan and South Korea, GreenPeak identified Indonesia and India as areas of opportunities in Asia for smart home adoption. Links said that new technology is actually a way for emerging countries and economies to be more competitive. "Just a practical example of this: remote controls delivered by MSO's in the USA are mostly hybrid: supporting both ZigBee RF as well as good old Infra-Red, so people can use the new ZigBee to also control their old devices. In Asia, many designs are jumping straight to RF only with nice slick design requiring only coin cell batteries, no legacy, no migration requirements," Links said.

GreenPeak is currently working on bringing its Zigbee products in Asia through affiliate firms involved in set-tops, routers and remote controls. It hopes to establish partnerships with operators in the region because the firm believes MSOs are the driving force behind the success of smart home services.

According to a report by IMS Research, home monitoring and security applications will propel demand for devices such as smart motion sensors in the next five years. (See Smart homes to zone in on energy management .)

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