A better life in a Smart Home

Networked home appliances are not simply a gimmick enjoyed by nerds; they actually offer real benefits in terms of energy efficiency and safety, for instance. However, a seemingly boundless range of devices must be able to communicate with each other in order to realise such benefits. That is where a technology called “thread” comes into action!

What is Thread?

Thread is an open wireless protocol which supports IPv6 (the next generation of Internet Protocol addresses) and which, like ZigBee, is based on the 802.15.4 wireless standard. It is specifically intended for connecting and controlling products in smart homes. Thread offers a range of technological advantages for smart-home applications, including a secure and reliable mesh network without a single point of failure, easy connectivity and low power consumption. Thread networks are easy to set up and feature the same kind of encryption used for banking applications.

Whether controlling lighting and heating via smartphone, operating household appliances with voice commands or turning your house into a fortress with the help of smart monitoring sensors: smart-home applications are very much in vogue.

“We are currently witnessing the breakthrough of the smart home,” says BITKOM President Achim Berg. “The smart home is not just about technical fads. It’s much more about changes in society; changes which might enable people to live independently at home in their old age just as much as they might facilitate a decentralised power supply that conserves resources.”

Effective, efficient interoperability has never been as important as it is today because so many different manufacturers are launching ever more IoT devices for home automation onto the market. Many of today’s commercial protocols are still proprietary, however, meaning that only devices from one single supplier are able to work together.

For example, wireless devices from Busch-Jaeger, a leading company in the field of electrical installation technology, communicate via a proprietary wireless protocol in the 2.4 GHz frequency band.

The French firm Somfy, on the other hand, has developed its own dedicated standard: RTS (Radio Technology Somfy), which operates in a frequency band of 868.6625 MHz.

Today, the company is betting on io-homecontrol, a cross-manufacturer, two-way wireless technology for residential buildings that is integrated into a broad spectrum of home-technology products from various brands. Yet only seven brand-name manufacturers are using this standard so far.

Open wireless standards enhance benefits

In this context, it is primarily the combination of different areas of application that creates real added value when it comes to increasing convenience and safety at home.

With the help of a smart door lock connected to an external camera, it is possible to open the front door for the children while you’re at work or ask the postman to leave a package in the hallway, to name two obvious examples. Such openness and freedom in networking different home-automation devices or appliances is offered by common wireless standards.

Alongside Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave and Thread are currently the main players for smart-home applications.

“We chose to increase our commitment to Thread because it solves commercial building spaces’ biggest challenge: technology silos plagued with minimal interoperation,” explains Klaus Waechter, Standardization Manager at Siemens Building Technologies, referring to his company’s commitment to a common wireless standard.

“Siemens supports Thread’s effort to unify the fragmented connected device industry and unlock new markets.” Thread seems to be onto something: Apple, Google subsidiary Nest, Osram, Bosch and Samsung are among fellow members of the Thread Group alongside Siemens.

Furthermore, the group is cooperating with other standard organisations to create an interoperable foundation for the Internet of Things. Similar efforts can also be observed for other wireless standards such as EnOcean, ZigBee or Z-Wave.

Platforms join different systems together

Nonetheless, there will definitely cease to just be the one universal wireless standard for home automation in the foreseeable future. Platform solutions exist as a fall-back solution in order to remain as free as possible in combining different smart-home appliances and devices in spite of this fact.

They enable applications to interoperate in different smart-home systems via one common data exchange. Qivicon – the brainchild of various industrial companies – is an example of this type of platform.

Here, the Qivicon Home Base comprises the core of the networked home. Via this central base unit, the user can control all connected devices or appliances in their home.

The individual devices or appliances communicate with the Home Base via wireless standards featuring cutting-edge security functions.

The supported wireless standards include ZigBee, HomeMatic, Homematic IP, DECT ULE and IP. In doing so, the platform combines the smart-home solutions of power companies, various manufacturers of appliances for the household, home and garden, not to mention those of telecommunications companies and suppliers of security solutions.

This type of “interdisciplinary” networking enables ingenious combinations: along those lines, lamps in the living room can provide a visual signal to the home’s occupants and start their favourite playlist once the washing machine in the basement has completed its cycle.

Smart living in practice

It’s already possible to experience how a smart home of this kind looks in reality, too. In Karlsfeld, near Munich, there are 29 detached homes and around 60 owner-occupied flats which are all furnished with a package of smart-home features.

IP-enabled components are integrated into every home environment that continuously “think” and adapt to the individual requirements of the respective building’s occupants.

“Whether the heating, lights, blinds, music or access control – every room and almost every controllable appliance can be governed independently and conveniently through the iHaus app,” according to Robert Klug, CEO of iHaus AG.

The software firm developed the iHaus app to control and link Internet-enabled devices and appliances, while the smart housing project was realised in collaboration with project developer Isaria Wohnbau.

“Thanks to smart ‘If-Then’ connections – so-called ‘triggers’ – the systems connected to iHaus are even capable of learning. What’s more, they can analyse information from the Internet and put this to good use.”

For example, this allows the room temperatures to be ideally adjusted to match the appropriate situation based on online weather forecasts.

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