Conventional DECT Technology Is an Option for the Smart Home

A smart home used to mean one with contemporary décor and upmarket furnishings. Now, a smart home is a connected dwelling, based on convenience and energy saving.

Smart homes save energy by not having the heating or lighting on when no one is home; it can protect, monitoring and alerting the user to intruders or fire. Smart lighting and climate controls, connected security systems and entertainment systems can be controlled remotely, with settings adjusted to suit, making the domestic setting more comfortable, secure, and energy-efficient.

The large installed base of DECT (an estimated 600 million homes), coupled with the energy savings of ULE, have created a technology that, for once, does not have to achieve traction from a standing start.

By 2021, there are expected to be 73 million smart homes in North America and 80.6 million smart homes in Europe, according to a report by Berg Insight, Smart Homes and Home Automation. This shows exceptional growth, rising from 22 million smart homes in North America in 2016, and growing from 8.5 million in Europe, in the same year. The projected figures translate to over half of the homes in North America (55 percent), with 36 percent of European households expected to be smart homes. A smart home is defined as a dwelling with a system of Internet connected devices operated by a smartphone app or web portal, controlling automation features, such as lighting, climate control, security, and audio control.

Figure 1: The connected smart home is designed for comfort. (Picture credit: STMicroelectronics)

Figure 1: The connected smart home is designed for comfort. (Picture credit: STMicroelectronics)

“This year is anticipated to be a good year for smart home technology as entry-level smart home systems have become affordable for the mass market at the same time as the reliability and features have improved significantly,” says Anders Frick, senior analyst at Berg Insight.

DECT and ULE Architecture
While protocols battle for supremacy, one well-established wireless communications standard has been working its way into a comprehensive ecosystem to offer a reliable, multi-vendor accessible, infrastructure for the smart home.

Ultra Low Energy (ULE) uses Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), the standard for wireless phones, to connect wireless sensors and actuators in a network for a low energy smart home. The DECT ULE wireless communication standard connects wireless sensors and actuators in domestic settings. It is promoted by the ULE Alliance, based in Switzerland, but has silicon and node suppliers around the world. At CES 2017, the ULE Alliance showcased its ULE technology, with multiple vendor demonstrations in its Smart Home.

DECT is an established technology for audio services. Since 1993 when it was defined by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), it has been used in wireless telephones in over 600 million households in over 100 countries around the world. DECT devices can plug into the Internet and are controlled by a DECT handset, making it one of the simplest networks to install.
The Smart Home demonstration in Las Vegas was designed to show the interoperability of products, from multiple vendors for the point-to-point technology. Using the DECT ULE frequency of 1.9GHz (1.8GHz in Europe), wireless connectivity is free from interference and uses the installed DECT telephony base.

ULE offers a low cost of ownership, due to the volume of installed devices and available chips. Most users will know DECT in its analog form, with a standalone DECT base with one or more handsets. In this format, the handset can be used as entry level terminals to control the system. Its other form is as a DECT/Cordless Advanced Technology—Internet and quality (CAT-iq) base, which is integrated into a home gateway. The IP gateway could be a broadband router or a DECT phone base with an Ethernet connection, enabling Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), fiber or cable to be used for the Internet Protocol (IP) backhaul.

DECT ULE has a range of 70m indoors and 600m outdoors, to connect home automation, security and environmental control in most residential settings, says the ULE Alliance.

The low amount of data that is transmitted to, for example, a monitor detector or door/window contacts, mean that power consumption is low. The sensor node operates on a sleep/wake mode, to preserve battery life, further contributing to energy savings and low maintenance.

Ease of Installation
The installed base of DECT reduces the cost of ownership of ULE technology, which is used to network door phone entry systems, security cameras for internal or external views, door and window locks, motion detectors, smoke and fire detectors and baby monitors.

The DECT ULE standard was introduced by ETSI in 2013. The low energy extension of the DECT standard was designed specifically for wireless home networking. It supports data and voice transmission, to communicate network status or send alerts, for example if a window lock is opened, or when a motion detector is activated.

Unlike other short-range wireless technologies, DECT ULE does not share a spectrum, as is the case with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Using a dedicated frequency reduces interference and translates to lower installation costs, as less repeaters are required to cover the same distance range. Less repeaters also reduces the maintenance requirements for the network and means that devices can be added easily to networks.

ULE is more energy-efficient than standard DECT and allows a larger number of sensors and actuators on a single network. Up to 2,000 actuators and sensors can share a DECT ULE network and node devices can be upgraded using the secure ETSI DECT protocol for light data services, Software Update Over The Air (SUOTA).

The star topology used for DECT ULE is based on a central device communicating to nodes, or sensors, on a point-to-point basis. This is less complex than a mesh network and reduces the need for repeaters around the network. The transport layer has a low latency which enables it to connect to an actuator, send a signal, and disconnect in less than 50-millisecond for real-time communication between the DECT basestation and nodes. Maximum data rate is less than ZigBee or Bluetooth Low Energy, at 1-Mbit per second, but suitable for the status update and commands messages which are required in the smart home. Nodes only wake up and communicate when activated, such as a magnetic-contact door lock being opened. This also contributes to energy saving, as many nodes can operate for years on a single AAA battery. ULE uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128 encryption to protect the transmission of data.

Industry Support
One of the features of DECT ULE is its self-configuring mode. Dialog Semiconductor has produced the Smart Pulse Integrated Circuits (ICs) that are interoperable with the wireless standard. When integrated into end products, the wireless sensors self-configure to connect with the DECT ULE-enabled hub or IP gateway. A smartphone or tablet can manage the sensors within the smart home ULE network.

Figure 2: SmartPulse ICs do not require RF expertise to integrate into a network, says Dialog Semiconductor.

Figure 2: SmartPulse ICs do not require RF expertise to integrate into a network, says Dialog Semiconductor.

For data, Dialog offers the SC14WSMDATA wireless sensor IC, and the SC14WSMDECT for data and audio. The sensor nodes integrate the baseband, radio transceiver, antenna, and power amplifier into a single IC. Power consumption is less than 3-micro A in sleep mode.

There is also the SC14CVMDECT which can be integrated into a hub or gateway for remote management over an Internet connection. This supports voice and data and can connect up to six voice and 256 data sensor nodes. It supports DECT ULE, DECT 6.0, and CAT-iq.

At CES 2017, the ULE Alliance Smart Home demonstration showed the diversity of suppliers that support ULE. Interoperability is assured with the ULE Certification Program. This gives developers confidence that DECT chips, sensors, and nodes as well as basestations can be implemented and controlled without issues of compatibility or multi-vendor supply.

The Crow Group was featured in the Smart Home demonstration with door and window locks, which send an alert when contact is broken. Motion sensors, fire detectors, and humidity and temperature control units also figured in the demonstration.

Figure 3: The DHAN-S module is integrated into many end products and is in the ULE Starter Kit from DSP Group.

Figure 3: The DHAN-S module is integrated into many end products and is in the ULE Starter Kit from DSP Group.

In its ULE-enabled security and life safety nodes, the Crow Group uses the ULE DHX91 System on a Chip (SoC) from DSP Group. This low power SoC is based on an  ARM926 processor and has an RF transceiver, power amplifiers, and hardware accelerators for video and voice applications. In hibernation mode it consumes less than 1-micro Amp.

DSP Group also provides a ULE starter kit to connect and validate nodes on a network. It has a ULE node which uses the DHAN-S module, a controller with a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Code can be generated and inserted into the ULE controller so that it can pair alarms, events, switches and locks and adjust the sensor settings for the network. It also validates the node.

The following month, in Barcelona, at the Mobile World Congress, Leedarson showed its lighting, security and sensing and control systems, which use the DHAN-S module from DSP Group. The module is built around the DHX91 and can be used as a wireless connectivity channel for lighting, environmental or security applications that run on an external microcontroller. It can also be used to control smart device hibernation features.

The large installed base of DECT (an estimated 600 million homes), coupled with the energy savings of ULE, have created a technology that, for once, does not have to achieve traction from a standing start.

Energy management in the home, such as smart thermostats and humidity controls, remains the initial focus of smart homes, with monitoring and security, as well as smart lighting are driving adoption. What is clear is that the base of support and multiple vendor accessibility will make deployment and adoption easier to achieve.

hayes_caroline_115Caroline Hayes has been a journalist covering the electronics sector for more than 20 years. She has worked on several European titles, reporting on a variety of industries, including communications, broadcast and automotive.

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