Reaching the Market with Smart Home Solutions Faster
Keys to success in the emerging Smart Home as a Service market.
Many in the industry view the Smart Home—the connected home—as the new holy grail of market opportunities. And in many ways it is. However, how do they get into the market? What does a product development team need to know? They need to understand the market and how it is changing, as well as being able to work with a technology partner who possesses the expertise and technology to get them to market quickly.
First, consumer demand for the Smart Home is evolving. For decades, electronics hobbyists have installed systems to help automate their homes. In the last five years or so, many of these devices and systems have added web connections, thus enabling them to be managed via a smartphone. However, over the last year or so, it has become evident that most consumers really don’t want just connected devices.
Instead consumers want Smart Home services. Instead of selecting, purchasing, installing, maintaining and controlling each connected device, they prefer to have it delivered as part of a consolidated service that provides a variety of smart systems all bundled together and which they control by a single dashboard app on their smartphones.
As service providers already have a footprint in many homes with cable TV and Internet services, it only makes sense that these operators be the ones to consolidate the technologies and deliver the Smart Home services to the consumer.
So what does this mean for the smart device and system developer? They need to look at the big picture and understand how the Smart Home as a Service works. And then figure out how their products will fit into this Smart Home ecosystem. Device developers and manufacturers need to be looking for partners—both in the delivery (the cable and Internet service operators) as well as technology partners (connectivity, cloud, analytics) that can help them design and develop their solutions quickly and cost effectively.
Choosing a Hardware Connectivity Supplier
When picking out a connectivity hardware supplier, system developers should select a partner with a proven hardware reference design, and a mature and well documented software development kit (SDK) that will work for their solution and their chosen service provider. For example, if their service provider plans on using a variety of different connectivity standards, then multi-channel radio support in the silicon is critical. Multi-stack protocol capability is key, as is a scalable software architecture that enables the engineer to plug in different application protocols as needed. At the same time, it is important to try to avoid the complexities of the underlying standards by having access to the technology by an easy to use API at higher levels, one which is standard agnostic.
A full featured reference design and software development kit includes a collection of software and/or hardware with tools that enable design engineers to quickly start the development of specific sensors, gateways, remote controls etc. without having them essentially “reinvent the wheel” of the data communication. A good reference design provides an optimized “design template” from which they can start to build their own product. The reference kit enables quick integration by only exposing the necessary features to the application developer. The newly announced ZigBee 3.0 Gateway SDK from Qorvo provides a development API that a software developer can use to build a working system without needing to dig into all of the details of the ZigBee 3.0 standard. This SDK shows a customer how to use the available API’s in a Smart Home use case.
A System that Just Works
For example, to build a Smart Home Gateway, design engineers require a detailed, high performance hardware reference design that is fully optimized in radio performance, coverage area and building penetration, as well as BOM cost. It requires a good radio design to ensure that the best link budget and best reliability lead to the best user experience. Customers don’t want complex installations, they want a system that they can install securely out of the box— and it just works.
In addition to radio chip performance, design engineers need to look carefully at the antenna design. For many applications, antenna diversity technology works best. It provides more uniform coverage and has better interference robustness, giving a better user experience. Also, design engineers need to look carefully at interference in the 2.4 GHz band. As the number of WiFi and Bluetooth connected devices in the home soars, the greater the likelihood of interference and clashes over use of bandwidth.
It is important to ensure that the antennas are designed well, as antenna design can seriously compromise the performance of an otherwise well designed and well thought out Smart Home solution. A good technology partner can provide multiple antenna design solutions that are optimized for different use cases, including antenna solutions for sensor devices that are robust and perform well over a range of different mounting scenarios (e.g. wood, brick, glass, even metal window frames)
The Emerging ShaaS Sector
Finally, and maybe most importantly, it is essential that a technology partner be able to provide support. Not only should they have expertise and experience in the technology, they should also know how to provide that support. They need to be able to provide validation services to fine tune and optimize the implementation, ensuring the Smart Home radio in their device works with other 2.4G radios (ZigBee, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.) as well as other emerging wireless technologies.
A good technology partner should be able to work with the design engineer to test basic RF communication to verify the radio path up to the Media Access Control and to ensure that the communications stacks are tested and ported correctly. A good technology partner provides easy to use example applications to perform verification/testing at each step in the SW porting.
This support should also include other partners for additional software and hardware requirements. For example—SHaaS is more than just a bunch of connected devices. It requires a network of application and cloud software development partners for the cloud intelligence: the analytics, databases and the apps that actually run on the smartphone.
To be successful in the new and emerging SHaaS sector, design engineers need to be aware of dozens of technologies—both hardware and software, existing as well as in progress. Instead of doing it all alone, the best path to success involves finding knowledgeable and experienced technology partners who can provide the hardware and software to enable them to skip man years of development work and get directly to the essence of what they do best, designing their device to be optimized for the SHaaS universe.
Cees Links was the founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, now part of Qorvo.
Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed, ultimately becoming household technology integrated into PCs and notebooks. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers, and hotspot base-stations. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the WiFi Alliance. And, he was instrumental in establishing the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee sense and control networking. Since GreenPeak was acquired by Qorvo, Cees has become the General Manager of the Low Power Wireless Business Unit in Qorvo.