The smart home market has had a bit of a difficult time gaining traction. A while back, I penned a missive as to why I believe this has been the case. If you are interested, go here.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case, as I discussed in that missive, including interoperability, cost, complexity, wireless platforms, and others. However, a general malaise of the platform is the current, low-tech implementation of Wi-Fi. Not the technology itself, that has some great new features, but its ability to scale.
Wi-Fi networks are small cell. And, while they can propagate several hundred feet, the real trick is to have good signal strength throughout the desired coverage area. That has been a major issue with Wi-Fi networks – signal strength throughout the cell to maintain decent data rates (and eliminate dead zones).
Attempts to address that have come in the form of adding wired or wireless access points or routers. That can work well but often requires a complicated setup. In addition, there are issues with Wi-Fi performance if not all the equipment is of the same standards. However, none of this works well with the smart home market.
Wi-Fi mesh networks have been moving to the center of the radar screen, of late. Using Wi-Fi mesh technology, to simplify smart home systems, is being seen as a new opportunity that may give the sluggish market some oomph!
Why mesh networks might work is because, unlike traditional range extending schemes, mesh technology is smart. It is based on the IEEE Standard 802.11s-2011 mesh networking amendment, on top of the IEEE 802.11 specifications document.
For example, it allows the connected devices to do dynamic handover, among nodes, based on signal strength. In addition, it is capable of allowing connections from legacy station devices. This leads to some interesting possibilities. For example, one is a radar-like ability to map the interior of the home. Smart mesh networks can then localize functions. If one is in the kitchen and wants to turn on the lights, smart networks know the location of the voice command, and can send the command to the location where the voice is located.
With motion sensors, such networks can also support gesture and voice user interfaces (UIs). Both UIs are integrated into their operating system. Such localized capability extends to room components (video, audio) doors, windows/window coverings; virtually any object within a room.
Vendors are seeing the opportunity here and developing unobtrusive, small, aesthetically pleasing nodes that can be placed anywhere around the house. If the controlled item has the corresponding interface (such as walled-in motors for doors and windows, sensors, and radios in electronics) much of the environment can be, autonomously, controlled. This works for both programmed modes and common action modes (such as closing a window when it begins to rain).
One the most intriguing elements of smart home Wi-Fi mesh networks is their ability to function autonomously. Functions such as self-organizing, self-optimizing, and self-healing are built in.
Going forward, such mesh networks have the potential to become, relatively, sophisticated. By integrating AI, interaction is taken to the next level. Security, for example, can become biometric, not just fingerprints, but retina, voice, and even the more sophisticated ones such as veinous mapping.
In addition, tracking, data analysis and prediction, such as what the Amazon, Google and other devices currently do, is on the horizon, but with much more sophisticated algorithms.
Combining AI and RF has far-reaching implications in next-generation Wi-Fi mesh networks. Device convergence with QoS metrics for latency-sensitive clients (medical devices, for example) can be accomplished. Overall, couple this with 5G, and the smart home might just get some legs.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio. Ernest Worthman may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.