Smart home revolution in Germany

In Germany, consumers can nowadays set up a smart home quickly and easily thanks to ULE. The wireless standard, which is based on tried and tested technology, has been a game changer. As it supports the transmission of speech, the technology will continue to shape the future of the smart home in Germany and other European countries. If the UK will follow suit depends on a few decision makers.

In Germany, anyone can set up a smart home easily without breaking the bank. A lot has changed over the last ten years, when smart homes were unaffordable for the majority of consumers. Most manufacturers had made sure that their solutions were not compatible with other systems. The lack of an open and reliable standard for the smart home also didn’t help. However, things started to change when the ULE wireless standard (ultra-low energy) was introduced. Providers such as Deutsche Telekom and manufacturers like AVM with their FRITZ!Box routers started offering smart home products. All of a sudden, users were able to connect smart sockets, radiator controls, lights and motion sensors to their internet router. All that was needed to turn the existing gateways into a smart home hub was a free software update for the integrated DECT base station, which until then had been used solely for cordless DECT phones.

It all started with a simple idea 10 years ago
Jochen_KilianThe foundation for ULE was laid ten years ago, when the chip manufacturer Dialog came up with the idea of developing an energy-efficient wireless standard for the smart home based on the DECT standard. At the time, the DECT standard had already proved its worth as the worldwide standard for cordless telephony. Another reason why DECT was deemed the best technology for a smart home standard was the fact that it uses a different frequency band than other technologies. While smart home standards such as ZigBee or Bluetooth have to share the 2.4 GHz band with Wi-Fi, which quickly leads to interference, DECT / ULE uses a protected frequency band (1880-1900 MHz). “The ULE standard is the result of a great effort,” says Jochen Kilian from the DSP Group [pictured right], who ensured that the standard was eventually adopted.

One of the many challenges the founding fathers of the ULE standard faced was to develop an energy-saving smart home technology within the framework of the strict DECT regulations. Unlike with cordless DECT phones, which rely on a permanent connection, the data had to be transmitted in small packets. The hard work of everyone involved paid off. “Establishing a connection and transmitting information only takes milliseconds with ULE,” explains Kilian. The groundwork was laid for a smart home standard that is as effective as it is energy efficient. In 2012, the technology was finally standardised in accordance with the requirements of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

Deutsche Telekom and AVM lead the way in Germany
The first operator who used the ULE standard was Deutsche Telekom. “Although the standard was brand new at the time, there were no problems, neither during development nor commissioning,” recalls Kilian. “Many providers and manufacturers who initially test a different smart home standard often end up using ULE once they realise during their field tests that ULE is the more reliable solution in real life.”

Three years ago, Deutsche Telekom expanded its portfolio with a range of new ULE-based smart home products, including smoke and motion detectors, door / window contacts and an outdoor smart plug. At the same time, the company announced that existing routers which were already in use had been updated via software updates. “That means that overnight, we equipped 170,000 households in Germany with a control centre for our Magenta SmartHome,” said Henri Vandré, head of Smart Home at Telekom Deutschland. At the same time, Germany’s biggest telecommunications provider also announced that they would distribute more than 1.2 million new smart routers every year.

AVM FRITZ! Smart Home

What was remarkable about the new smart home strategy was that the company chose to open their system to third parties. Since then, their products are compatible with smart home products of other manufacturers, and can be combined by the user with third-party devices as they wish – for example with the ULE products from FRITZ!Box manufacturer AVM. Instead of making it basically impossible for customers to use other devices, suddenly, the focus was on the customers and their needs. “No-one buys an entire smart home system from a single provider that covers all of their needs for once and all,” says Kilian. In most cases, it starts with the need for a specific application such as smart lighting. More smart home devices are then being added, step by step. "With ULE-based products that have been certified by the ULE Alliance, users can be sure that their devices can be combined with other ULE devices regardless of the manufacturer”, emphasises Kilian.

ULE has voice control in its DNA
The fact that voice control and voice transmission are becoming increasingly popular in the smart home market also favours the ULE standard. On the one hand, the smart home can be controlled even more conveniently using voice commands. On the other hand, security solutions such as alarm systems can establish a direct connection to the operator when an alarm is triggered. Thanks to the DECT-based ULE technology, communication can take place securely and reliably in both directions, even without an internet connection.

The ULE standard apparently has all the required features to play an important role in the further development of the smart home market. The thing is, in order for all consumers in the UK to be able to use ULE-based smart home products, the providers would first have to support the ULE standard. On paper, that’s an easy task. The question, however, is whether an open, consumer-oriented smart home is wanted by the decision-makers in the UK.