Tenets of a Truly Smart Home?
What aspiring smart-home enthusiast wouldn’t enjoy a permanent break from troubleshooting inconsistent Wi-Fi, patching inefficiencies in energy use, or keeping dozens of connected devices and apps shielded from malware?
In line with that sentiment, more homeowners are investing in smart-home technology. The number of connected homes in the U.S. grew from 17 to 29 million between 2015 and 2017, according to McKinsey. IHS figures that by 2025, the world will contain 75 billion connected devices.
But as IoT devices and services multiply in the home, so does the potential for security holes, connectivity and integration issues, and enough complexity to challenge even the IT-savvy homeowner. Without a carefully researched, step-by-step plan for building the smart home from the ground up, many homeowners are wasting their money and missing out on the promises of IoT technology.
As the smart-home marketplace expands, so does the challenge of knowing how to connect the growing number of puzzle pieces—voice assistants, Wi-Fi and mesh solutions, cybersecurity layers, and visibility into the entire network. Here are the five core essentials that homeowners should consider when building out a truly smart home.
A smart home simply cannot operate without a strong and reliable Internet connection. Mark Vena, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, imagines a smart home with 25 to 30 devices. “If you don’t have a router with good wireless coverage, you have an immediate problem,” he says.
Homeowners need tools that solve their connectivity issues for good. Mesh networks, for example, spread Wi-Fi throughout the home by means of meshed-together nodes. Signal strengths adjust based on the needs of the particular device, and formerly spotty areas finally benefit from that high-grade Wi-Fi you’re paying for.
They should also transition into Wi-Fi 6, a new set of standards from the Wi-Fi Alliance. It promises stronger coverage in dense environments (e.g. the 30-device smart home), and a wider range, so that outdoor IoT devices such as automatic sprinklers or security cameras will not falter.
What makes IoT devices so useful is their ability to learn from the data you give them. A smart speaker, for example, might learn your music preferences based on time of day. A thermostat may automatically adjust temperature according to who’s in what room of the house.
All that connectivity, however, creates a larger overall “attack surface” for hackers and malware, the same concept that keeps corporate security officers up at night. A homeowner who entrusts their personal data to IoT vendors should have utmost confidence in their devices’ security. As a start, to avoid falling victim to a repeat of the Mirai botnet fiasco (which infected 2.5 million IoT devices, according to McAfee), they should make sure their devices are protected by secure passwords.
ISPs can educate homeowners about these risks. They can also expose them to more sophisticated defenses, such as opening guest networks, setting parental controls, and monitoring the flow of data that travels from the home to the cloud. Most importantly, the ability to proactively spot IoT device behavior that is outside the norm will become “table stakes”. For example an unusual spike in upstream data from a security camera can signal that the device is being hacked and sending unauthorized data from your home. This is the next level of security services that are starting to be provided by leading edge ISPs.
As devices multiply in the home, homeowners will want a complete view into how they’re working, separately and together. An analytics dashboard, provided by the ISP, can give homeowners insight into device performance and security, and reveal habits that inform future smart home uses and investments.
The dashboard might show that weak Wi-Fi connections are due to a V1 tablet hogging the signal. Smart fridge data may reveal unhealthy eating habits that the homeowner wasn’t aware of (at least not actively).
John Clancy, VP of residential installations at New Jersey-based Crestron Electronics, has spent over 20 years installing new devices in people’s homes. Right now is an especially confusing time to be in the smart home market, he says. “There’s so much available that you often become overwhelmed.”
There might appear to be a solution in the name brand ecosystems, but what fits one home may disrupt another. Homeowners should expect tailored selection and installation. With their ISPs as guides, homeowners will have the flexibility to explore the best solutions on the market as the smart home market grows.
A smart ISP
The smartest path to cover all these core elements often comes down to choosing the right service provider, one that offers not just a reliable broadband connection, but an array of smart-home support services, including the setup and management of all of the above.
A recent example of a new entrant into this space of a full service system comes from Calix. Last week they announced the Calix GigaSpire smart home system, powered by EXOS, an Operating System with the flexility to add new applications seamlessly. It is exclusive to ISPs and not available at retailers like Best Buy. Unlike retail brands, ISPs are in the best position to offer innovative systems like these to custom-tailor the best solutions on the market with objectivity, as a value-added service. It’s a capability that innovative providers are leaning into—and one many homeowners and subscribers ought to take advantage of.