Implementing the Quintessential Smart Home
Internet of Things (IoT) thinking, where devices are connected over the internet and communicate with one another, is already becoming mainstream. As interest continues to grow in home automation and smart building technology, household systems and devices are being designed and manufactured to work together with each other and with their users.
Global IT research company Gartner has estimated that nearly 5 billion connected 'things' – including building security systems, domestic white goods and office equipment – were in use by the end of 2015, up 30 per cent from 2014, and that the total is expected to reach 25 billion by 2020.
The gains on offer from such complex smart solutions include increased efficiency, reliability, cost savings, comfort, convenience and security. But the essential requirements for securing the optimum benefits from this connected technology are advanced planning, accurate specification and meticulous installation. This will ensure the effective integration from the outset of individual components equipped with the necessary interconnectivity.
Planning and Installation
Strategic planning for any home automation and smart building integration should ideally be initiated at the design stage to ensure that the necessary space requirements and infrastructure are incorporated into the architectural drawings. It is about talking to the right people at the right time, to decide exactly what is wanted upfront, because implementing a solution further down the line will only create added cost and complexity.
The installation process is then about effective project management, taking responsibility in a design and build or refurbishment project. Building and electrical contractors will often have some knowledge and expertise, but not necessarily the ability to implement a complete and fully integrated solution.
Architectural drawings not only have to factor in the building requirements for home automation, but also be overlaid with the necessary cabling and electrical diagrams. Providing clear and concise drawings will enable different contractors to understand what needs to be installed and when, so the homeowner gets exactly what they want rather than someone else’s interpretation. This will help avoid many of the pitfalls we see, where requirements are often shoehorned into where they fit rather than where’s best.
For example, a building will need future-ready cabling to support an installation, something that is far simpler to achieve before walls and ceiling have been plastered and decorated rather than retrofitting afterwards. There are also some design considerations such as having space set aside for the rack that will house the main components of the home automation equipment or ensuring audio visual equipment is in the optimum positions rather than simply where it fits. Treating smart technology as an afterthought will only lead to disruption and likely disappointment.
Choosing the right system that will bring together the required household components – such as heating, lighting, CCTV, blinds, leak detection, smoke alarms and home entertainment – is essential. There are currently no common standards within the marketplace which is important to bear in mind, especially as the larger technology companies have traditionally focussed on creating their own closed systems as part of their strategies to dominate the smart home sector.
Manufacturers of domestic and commercial electrical products that are now being considered as candidates for integration into IoT networks have not, until recently, needed to devote much time or thought to considering the scope for interconnectivity. As a result, many companies are still on steep learning curves, so it is imperative to ensure that appliances and devices have the technical, operational and security capabilities, along with the necessary connected pathways that link them together.
If a DIY solution is required, based around a smart thermostat or security system, then it is not too complicated to remove or replace should it not meet expectations. However, adopting a hardwired home automation network across a wide range of systems will be both costly and disruptive to change, even if you are able use the same cabling and wifi infrastructure, so it is important to specify the right technology first time and design the system to meet the exact needs of the customer today, whilst creating the adaptability to absorb foreseeable future technologies.
Having strong and consistent wifi is critical for any home automation system. A smart home is only as good as the wifi network it is connected to, so you need to consider both coverage quality and Internet bandwidth to ensure multiple devices and systems can be operated at the same time from anywhere in the property without interference from competing wireless systems.
Never assume that a standard wireless router supplied by your broadband provider will be sufficient to provide a robust and reliable signal throughout a property (whatever the adverts may claim). For larger properties, it is necessary to increase wi-fi coverage through the installation of dynamic Access Points, which could have implications in terms where to run an additional Ethernet cables. The quality of a signal is not just impacted by distance, but also the number of walls it must travel through, so the location of each device does need careful planning.
In terms of bandwidth, most Internet of Things (IoT) appliances use relatively small amounts, although we do not know how this could change in the future. There are notable ‘hungry’ exceptions including security cameras and 4K (and beyond) video transmission systems that require technically competent design solutions.
What all this demonstrates is the need to get the design, planning and implementation right in the first place, so you are happy with the system from the outset, satisfied that it meets individual requirements and, is adaptable to manage future needs. There are many potential pitfalls, so seeking the necessary guidance wherever possible and tapping into the expertise of industry specialist contractors is key.
Julian Synett is Managing Director of Ingeny, the Custom Installation division of security and building systems integrator, Interphone. He has more than 10 years of experience in the integration and building technology marketplace, with a detailed understanding of the implementation process from design and consultation through to installation and ongoing support.