Home Automation technologies have remained out of reach of the mainstream consumers for a long time. The high cost and custom installer requirements have restricted them to high end homes. The multitude of technologies in this space has also been detrimental to the adoption rate. However, the rise of smartphones and tablets has suddenly brought about a big shift in the landscape.

Wi-Fi networks have become ubiquitous in almost every home now. Smart device manufacturers have realized the advantages of integrating Wi-Fi instead of ZigBee or Z-Wave in their products. Some aspects such as power consumption, range and, to some extent, cost are still not optimal with Wi-Fi. However, with silicon vendors becoming active in this market segment and work progressing well on the 802.11ah front, these will be addressed soon.

In home automation terminology, 'scenes' refer to the linking of devices in intelligent ways based on events. Simple device-based control using a mobile app opens the door. But, one also needs a central device which can perform the orchestration. This makes it necessary for specialized HA protocols to have dedicated controllers. In a pure Wi-Fi based system, I can see this orchestration running as an app on the router. For example, Netgear allows third-party developers to write apps for their routers using Java and post them in the Genie marketplace. If the HA devices have open APIs and developer documentation, creation of scenes in a pure Wi-Fi based system will probably not require a dedicated controller.

What does all this mean for the average consumer? The most important takeaway is that home automation products, particularly Wi-Fi based ones, will see an uptick in adoption. This will, in turn, fuel the development of more innovative HA devices. This will be a boon for consumers who already have a HA system in place. What about users who are starting afresh? It is very important to not get tied down with a closed system. Products such as Nest and Belkin WeMo may boast of excellent industrial design and a great feature set. However, unless they open up the APIs and access for third parties to create a common custom home automation interface, they can't be recommended. Products such as those from Radio Thermostat and Visible Energy may not have great industrial design or the marketing budget that others have. However, we can recommend them without reservations for their feature set (including the well-documented APIs for developers).

A host of Wi-Fi enabled HA products and concepts have already started capturing the attention of the consumers. Coupled with the rapid rise in Wi-Fi based home automation, the talk of an 'Internet of Things' will soon become a mainstream reality.

 

Miscellaneous Wi-Fi-Based Home Automation Devices
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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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