The concept of a “smart home” isn’t as new as you think. Since computers started getting smaller, people have imagined ways to integrate them into our daily lives, besides having ones that sit on our tables. In fact, if you watch any movie from the 80s or 90s that features a tech-savvy character, odds are you will find him/her living in a house that has voice control systems, monitors built into the walls, and rainbow lighting everywhere.
Pop culture’s fascination with voice-controlled homes and humanoid robots aren’t just Hollywood hijinks. The push for making tech that is easier to integrate into our daily lives has been going on for at least half a century now. One of the first significant milestones in this process was the invention of the mobile phone. The first commercially sold cellular handheld phone was the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, released in 1973, which retailed for about $4000 back then ($10400 in 2020 money).
The DynaTAC didn’t achieve much commercial success, primarily due to its insane price, but it opened many doors for people trying to innovate in the smart computing space. Eventually, their continued efforts snowballed into a range of products that we know today as IoT devices.
IoT stands for Internet of Things. It’s an umbrella term for all things with sensors or chips embedded inside, which lets them connect to the internet. Such devices can usually be controlled wirelessly and have inbuilt software that enhances their functionality.
All smart gadgets are, in fact, IoT devices. This includes everything from smart fridges, toasters, coffee machines, watches, and glasses to anything else that you can put a wafer of silicon inside. The reason why smart devices have achieved such popularity is because of the way that they can seamlessly connect with one another and share data about your usage habits.
For example, you can set a whole morning routine for your smart devices to automatically do their job around the time you wake up. This means that you can have your coffee machine make a freshly brewed cup at precisely 8 a.m. while the bulb lights up around the same time to wake you up. Most interestingly, though, none of these processes require any physical intervention because you can control most IoT devices through their companion apps.
As mentioned before, these devices can also learn your usage patterns as time goes by and make suggestions accordingly to ease your day. The makers of these devices also analyzes some of the data that is collected from you to introduce functionality that they believe customers want.
IoT devices without a robust internet connection are just devices. Their smart features are brought to life only when they can communicate with each other without interruptions or signal drops. Unfortunately, traditional routers are not suited for such a task. The main problem with having just one access point to connect all your smart gadgets is a signal collision, which causes frequent disconnections.
A second issue is that of physical distance. Basically, if a device is too far away from the singular WiFi router, the signal that reaches it is weak and unsuitable for reliable data throughput. You can solve such problems by implementing a mesh WiFi network within your house that blankets every corner with uniform internet connectivity.
Mesh WiFi networks make use of several routers instead of one to bounce the internet connection within themselves. Mesh WiFi kits come with two or more nodes (basically, routers), which can be independently placed in different parts of an office building or a house. One of the nodes is a master, which is connected to the wire. The others relay that signal and allow all nearby devices to use it.
Mesh WiFi systems are designed to leave no dark spots in your house or office. Every corner of the space gets a strong signal, and every smart device connects to its nearest node instead of a singular centralized access point. This mechanism also reduces network strain because the strain of multiple connections is shared across several access points.
Most importantly, WiFi standards such as Zigbee have explicit support for mesh networking. Zigbee is a protocol created and maintained by the Zigbee Alliance, consisting of over 300 eminent electronics manufacturers, OEMs, tech firms, and service to service companies.
The Zigbee protocol also allows for highly efficient and secure data transfer among low-powered IoT devices while also transmitting through high RF environments with minimal latency. One Zigbee mesh network can support up to 65000 compliant devices.
Therefore, when buying an IoT device, make sure that it is Zigbee compliant.
Now that we have looked at how to best wire your home or office for integrating smart devices, we shall proceed to understand what type of internet connection is best suited for the job. The short answer: one that uses optical fiber.
To best facilitate your smart devices, you should opt for an FTTH (Fiber to the Home) service from a reputed provider. Make sure that your connection has low latency and choose one with sufficient bandwidth. For office buildings, the best choice is Gigabit Ethernet.
Gigabit Ethernet, as the name suggests, offers up to 1 Gbps download/upload speeds. For context, the average 4K movie stream requires 25 Mbps to play without interruptions. A Gigabit Ethernet connection can simultaneously support 40 such streams playing concurrently. Considering that IoT devices typically consume much less bandwidth, several of them can seamlessly operate over a Gigabit connection.
Of course, if your business requires transferring a lot of data over the internet, you should opt for a higher plan, but for most SMEs, Gigabit should be enough for both your employees and your smart devices.
For a family of five, a 200 Mbps connection should be good enough. Household smart gadgets rarely need to transfer too much data and never for too long. As long as the devices have robust connectivity at their disposal whenever they need it, your smart home should be good to go with a low latency 200 Mbps connection.
If you tune in to tech news from time to time, you may have heard the word “ecosystem” being thrown around. This ecosystem tech journalists keep talking about refers to some company’s ever-expanding family of smart devices that share some common DNA.
Arguably, Apple nurtures the most feature-rich ecosystem out there. That is to say, their iPhones, Macs, Home Pods, Thermostats, and all other devices they make are engineered in a way that your workflow just smoothly carries over as you shift from one to another. If you are into the Apple ecosystem, your devices will feel less standalone and more like one soul transpiring through several bodies.
Most recently, Apple has been venturing into the smart living space with its HomeKit platform. HomeKit is Apple’s own development initiative for smart home devices that can talk to one another and be controlled using only an iPhone. Apple actively encourages developers to make their products compliant with HomeKit to facilitate a deeper integration with the Apple ecosystem.
In their WWDC 2021 conference held on June 7th, Apple stated that their goal was to facilitate smart homes where you can say, “Hey Siri, unlock my front door” to enter. Once inside, all your appliances, including your AC, fridge, motion sensors, doorbells, and lights, will be controllable via simple voice commands and the iPhone. Such is their focus on the smart living space at this moment.
There is no better time than the present to be a smart home enthusiast. Technology has matured to the point that we can make pretty much any appliance “smart” by simply sticking a chip inside it. We live in an era where self-driving cars are just around the corner, and drones shall be picking up our groceries any day now.
In other words, it is undeniable that tech has become an integral part of our lives. Gadgets that some might have deemed too sci-fi, even a few short years back surround us now. Yet here we are, and tech continues to surprise us every day.
In the end, living in 2021 just makes me wonder how happy those characters from the 90s movies would be if they saw our “smart” homes today.