Before tablet computers and smartphones were so common, home automation was for homeowners and developers who could pay the high price. But in just a few years, 4G and Wi-Fi-based devices are widely distributing the possibility of home automation to consumers with a vengeance.
Homewners are comfortable with managing their home environment with a handheld controller, which means business for home automation vendors and service providers is changing. Who will provide the developing solutions, and who will install and service them? A variety of market players are still deciding the answers to those questions.
According to a recent survey by international market research and consulting firm Infonetics Research, home automation is front and center for broadband service providers. Polling broadband operators regarding access and residential automation, the survey found that nearly all vendors worldwide were rolling out some kind of home automation service. Jeff Heynen, directing analyst, broadband access and video at Infonetics, said that some of the largest operators, such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, have announced home automation services this year, most commonly in home security and energy management. Their services begin with remote control lighting, doors, thermostats, audio, video and home security systems.
While Wi-Fi systems are popular, wireless mesh network system technology, such as Zigbee, Z-Wave and various forms of radio frequency (RF) technology, is developing for smart networks in homes.
“Obviously, the upshot is that it’s not just [security] companies like ADT in this space,” Heynen said.
Many service providers are venturing into automation with simple functionality, such as nanny cams and home energy monitoring. Heynen said full security systems that patch in to local fire departments and police stations are more complicated and destined to be delayed for several more years.
Some major players have been part of the home automation adoption since the technology’s inception, and they hope to see electrical contractors work with them as the market shifts. Leviton Manufacturing Co., Melville, N.Y., for example, has recently expanded its residential automation business unit with the acquisition of home control products company Home Automation Inc. (HAI), New Orleans. While Leviton already offered the backbone products, such as structured wiring for automation systems, HAI enhances that offering with home entertainment, security, lighting management, control systems and even control with Android devices.
“In the short term, we will integrate the HAI product with Leviton offerings,” said Daryoush Larizadeh, Leviton’s COO.
The market is changing with the technology. For example, the home automation and consumer electronics markets are taking advantage of mobile devices that can interface with home systems and appliances.
“Anyone with an iPhone or iPad can use that as a controller,” he said.
This is all good news for electrical contractors. For instance, it creates the possiblity of selling more value to a consumer, whether it is a homeowner or developer.
Leviton aligns itself closely with electrical contractors who specify and install the home automation systems. The company is developing training programs to update electrical contractors about network installation into new or existing homes.
Larizadeh said changes in consumer electronics, as well as in the roles of security companies and service providers, will require Leviton to train the contractor community. Education programs will be based on the model of training HAI already offers its installers, both on the Internet and in person.
“We will be going to our contractor base to get them armed to get into this space,” he said. “It’s our job to help them understand why this is a good business for them.”
Leviton, he pointed out, seeks to achieve innovation, incubation and ingenuity, and it hopes to partner with contractors who embrace such a philosophy.
Another home automation player, Honeywell, Morristown, N.J., rolled out two new security and home automation products this year to make homes smarter, with a focus on addressing consumer needs for energy savings and security control.
Honeywell is seeing increased demand for stand-alone and integrated automation control solutions, said Ralph Maniscalco, Honeywell’s director of marketing communications. He said there are more companies in the marketplace who integrate their core technology—such as thermostats, locks, lighting and shades—with automated wireless protocols such as Z-Wave and ZigBee, and this integration has renewed interest in the technology.
However, he also pointed to the ubiquity of the smartphone and other mobile devices as key drivers that have fueled this growth.
“Home automation has been around for many years. It wasn’t until this key user interface became mainstream when the popularity of this technology grew exponentially,” he said, adding that, today’s consumers want to control everything from their smartphones.
Honeywell’s two new platforms fit the majority of installation requirements in the home automation market, Maniscalco said.
LYNX Touch 5100 integrates security, Z-Wave automation, Wi-Fi alarm communications and remote control into one system. The Z-Wave connectivity module enables users to connect their security system, lighting and thermostats.
The Tuxedo Touch controller, which enables users to see up to four Internet protocol cameras on a 7-inch touchscreen, is a step above. Its built-in web server makes every smartphone, tablet, PC or Internet-connected TV into a local remote control device with ability to see video and control the system.
Tuxedo Touch also has built-in Z-Wave functionality and can operate as a standalone controller or be integrated into any Honeywell VISTA security system. Homeowners also can receive alerts about events remotely with Honeywell Total Connect Remote Services
In the near future, Maniscalco predicted that geolocation and geofencing will become new opportunities for both commercial and residential applications. This solution will give parents the ability locate their children or business owners the capability to track their vehicles.
As automation systems and traditional home technologies continue to get smarter, consumers will be able to manage and control their appliances, heating systems, pool pumps and even their solar panels to get the most efficient use of these products when connected to the smart grid.
“Tuxedo Touch is smart-meter-ready. That means it can already process data on energy usage in the home. For homes where there is no smart meter, which is still the majority, Honeywell’s E-Mon submeter can read and report on energy usage, helping consumers understand peak usage periods and adjust their lifestyles to maximize energy efficiency in the home,” Maniscalco said.
Such a system is already deployed at some housing communities, such as Land Tejas development, Houston. In this case, each home is equipped with the Tuxedo Touch system to provide homeowners with control over their own energy, even ahead of smart grid connection.
SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.