The connected home is one of the largest, fastest-growing segments in the Internet of Things (IoT). But before the connected home makes the leap from early adopters to mainstream consumers, some important challenges need to be addressed. Questions about technology standards, business models, and data collection need to be answered in a way that will satisfy all stakeholders in the connected home ecosystem.
A typical connected home network features one or more smart devices (possibly hundreds) connected to each other and to the Internet so that end users can control, customize and monitor their environment. Applications driving adoption include sensors, actuators and controls for security and environmental systems, entertainment consoles and TVs, and appliances.
These devices are capable of sharing data and commands with the rest of the home ecosystem because they integrate widely available low-power embedded controllers, wireless chips and sensors. Leading semiconductor and software suppliers already offer the mix of components and development tools that lets connected device designers and service providers avoid the risks of adopting a single standard.
Additional required technologies that support the connected home —such as operating systems, application development platforms and connectivity protocols—draw from a rich legacy of embedded industrial and mobile IoT applications, so are also readily available to developers.
However systems that are simple to install and manage, while power users may prefer systems that let them tweak and push the limits of what the system can deliver. The differences among home users impacts technical requirements for the installation experience, including device discovery, feature configuration and security management.
Home users have a choice of suppliers to create the desired mix of do-it-yourself or do-it-for-me connected devices. Each of these stakeholders has different requirements when engaging with the home user. For example, a service provider catering to a do-it-for-me customer will be concerned about battery life in devices they install to minimize labor and replacement costs during the life of the contract, while a retailer catering to a do-it-yourself customer will emphasize a low purchase price with less concern about energy consumption and battery life.
In addition to user experience, there are several issues that directly affect industry stakeholders. What are the business models that let stakeholders innovate and contribute to the connected home ecosystem while providing revenue for the benefits they enable? Who owns the data collected by the connected home ecosystem, and how is that data made available to each stakeholder? Who is responsible for security? How will physical and logical security be ensured in the connected home ecosystem as well as stakeholders’ remote or cloud-based services?
The connected home ecosystem is different from traditional embedded systems. Each component is not isolated and devices must interoperate within the ecosystem. For example, a device such as a smart thermostat may require data from other devices, such as a mesh network of motion detectors. This is how the device makes intelligent decisions about when to dynamically adjust lighting and climate settings to appropriately meet the conditions in the environment it is monitoring and controlling.
There are already a variety of application frameworks, operating systems and communication protocols vying for leadership in the connected home ecosystem and it is unlikely that the market will converge to a single set of standards. What is more likely is that there will be a give and take in how each device, peripheral and hub responds to each other to protect home users’ investment and protect stakeholders from some of the risk of supporting unsuccessful standards.
The evolution of remote controls is an example that suggests how business models may adjust to address these issues. Remote controls have never complied with a standard form factor, key layout or command protocol. This has been a deliberate decision made by manufacturers who tightly coupled remote control designs with their products. If remote controls were interchangeable, product manufacturers would not be able to ensure the user experience, especially if a remote control from one manufacturer did not implement important capabilities of another manufacturer’s product.
Universal remote controls eventually came about as a workaround, with discrepancies between remote control commands and device operation typically attributed to the universal remote.
Icontrol Networks’ 2015 survey of consumers considering connected home products reveals that users are more worried about the possibility of a data breach that results in their personal data being stolen than the cost of the technology. They are also fearful that their data will be collected and sold.
The ability for connected home devices to collect and communicate usage and sensor data to the cloud transforms them from a single user transaction to an ongoing relationship. Applying analysis to the data collected by all connected devices may allow the connected home ecosystem to deliver valuable capabilities not even imagined today. Additional benefits are possible if big data analysis can identify trends among groups of users across different homes. But to unlock this potential, stakeholders must address data ownership and security at the device, platform and service level.
Business models rely on the assumption that information that can be collected from connected home devices will generate additional value for the user and the stakeholder. However, business models based on analyzing this collected information must address user concerns about opting-in or out (both before and after data has been collected), offering recourse if data is lost or stolen and providing access to external audits of how stakeholders are using the information.
Complicating the issue are the differing views on security by connected device manufacturers. For example, a door lock manufacturer may hold significantly higher security concerns compared to a light switch manufacturer. As a result, security becomes a multi-level issue. This can include integrating security protections and hardening the chips in designs, working within standards bodies to ensure usage of appropriate security protocols in the standards, working on software implementations to ensure proper security review and hardening, and working with home users to ensure they use the appropriate level of security for their devices.
Taming the Connected Home
The connected home has become the fastest-growing and largest segment within the IoT, but competing requirements make succeeding in this market more complex for device and service providers to address than other IoT segments. Taming the connected home depends on an ecosystem that enables new stakeholders to thrive while adding complementary products and services that add value to consumers.
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