Home automation (hereafter referred to as HA) refers to the mechanization and automatic control of various residential activities. It typically provides for centralized control of electrical appliances (such as air conditioners, lighting and security systems and even the home theater). In addition to the comfort and convenience factor, energy efficiency also receives a boost.

The integration of various electrical devices in the household has been a challenge because of the absence of a cheap, open and standardized communication protocol between them. Due to this reason, HA systems have typically come with a hefty price tag and the need for a professional CI (custom installer / integrator) to set up. Consumers on a strict budget are slowly getting access to cheap home automation controllers for self installation, but considerable investment is still needed in terms of time and resources.

Image Credit: Home Automation Montreal

In this age of mobile computing, a wireless router exists in practically every home. Smartphones and tablets are natural devices to enable control of electrical devices. In such a situation, Wi-Fi becomes an easy avenue for self-installation of HA systems. We are in the midst of a sudden spurt in interest over home automation using Wi-Fi. Till recently, usage of Wi-Fi for HA purposes was considered to be akin to using a sledgehammer to drive a nail. While it could get the job done, it wasn't efficient in terms of power consumption or cost. However, as more and more electrical devices began to get connected to the local household IP network (Smart TVs are a prime example), control over the IP network (Ethernet / Wi-Fi) has garnered renewed interest.

The 'Internet of Things' has been a buzzword for an increasingly networked world where everything from the refrigerator to the lamp in the household would end up with an IP address. While this hasn't  become a reality yet, we are slowly, but surely, moving towards this vision. In this piece, we will first briefly explore the history of home automation technologies, followed by why we believe Wi-Fi is placed well towards becoming the next HA standard. A couple of sections will deal with some of the interesting products in the Wi-Fi home automation space.

Home Automation Technologies - A Brief History
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  • Conficio - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Wouldn't it be a smart idea that the devices only allow connections that are WPA secured?

    Just to make a point that the manufacturer did actually consider network security.
    Reply
  • lyeoh - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    WPA2/WPA PSK is crackable. And that's the best most WiFi networks support (they don't do WPA2 Enterprise - which requires username+password).
    See: http://www.aircrack-ng.org/doku.php?id=cracking_wp...

    The WiFi bunch have been producing crap security for years. They should have done something more like SSL/TLS.

    The reason why nobody hacks into your WPA2 PSK network is because it's not really worth doing it. But once home networks start to have more "goodies" on them it'll become more common.
    Reply
  • Friendly0Fire - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    http://xkcd.com/538/

    Nobody will crack your WPA2 network because it'll still be easier to just smash the window.
    Reply
  • ntspam - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Like I heard somewhere anyone crook with sophistication can easily pick the lock on your front door. I think it takes more talent to hack into your home automation system. Reply
  • Azethoth - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    "For that matter, they don't harden cell phones"

    This is wrong, even though someone wrote it on the internet.

    Here is the single counter example I need:
    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/fbi-andro...

    That still does not mean phones are secure, but claiming that companies do not try is silly.
    Reply
  • philosofool - Monday, October 08, 2012 - link

    Seriously, if I'm going to hack something, it's not going to be to turn up the heat in someone else's home. What a stupid waste of my time.

    Why is it that you people who are obsesively worried about security don't realize that all security is a matter of raising costs for would-be hackers to the point where the benefits aren't worth it. Messing with someone's lawn watering schedule is a pretty low benefit activity, so security demands just aren't that high.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I can't find much on this standard; is it safe to assume that "sub 1ghz" means the 900mhz band? With every other wireless device abandoning it in favor of 2.4ghz; putting something new at 900mhz to keep it used sounds like an all around win. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Yes, the plan is for 802.11ah to operate in the 900 MHz band Reply
  • drwho9437 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    There is also an ISM band at ~415 MHz., but mostly people do 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz because of antennas and PCB losses. Reply
  • aruisdante - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I think a product that has the potential to be a real disrupter in the HA space is the Electric Imp. It's a MCU and Wifi module in an SD card form-factor with 8 GPI/O and a cloud server infrastructure that can run rules-based programs (in addition to hard-coding the MCU). And it's cheap... a development board is only $30 at retail. I'm actually kind of surprised it wasn't mentioned in this article. Reply

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