Smart home, intelligent living

In large scale residential apartment blocks, building management systems (BMS) are commonly in place maintaining the variety of systems that keep these large buildings operational and secure. In this scenario automation is standard practice, but despite the fact that the modern home has a plethora of gadgets to control, management systems are still not commonplace.

For more and more clients – from property developers through to individual home buyers – a smart home capability is fast becoming the next necessity. Think about all of the technology that you will use at some time today. You will probably use a mobile or landline telephone. You might also use a personal computer for the internet or online gaming and then there is the TV with satellite or cable….the list is endless.

If we look at how these traditional services are now being delivered then you will begin to see why home automation is so important. Telephony can now be accessed via the internet, using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services such as Skype. Television now also comes in a variety of flavours and although analogue will soon be phased out you still have the choice of digital, Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin…and standard or high definition or 3D HD…as well as online for catching up on your laptop!

Increase in technology

None of this technology is unusual or special nowadays as these services, and the way they are delivered, are all part of many people’s modern needs. The number of devices and variety of locations people want to use these technologies is also increasing, for example, a single connection for a telephone in the hallway is no longer enough and having just one television socket in the lounge just doesn’t bear thinking about!

The exponential, mass market need for new ways of accessing content or increasing control of the home are constantly fuelling the momentum for intelligent, integrated living. In addition, alliances between the largest consumer electronic and computer manufacturers and any number of peripheral companies, are constantly driving out new content or software for consumer electronics.

This effect in turn fuels the need for the latest and greatest products or the newest ways of using technology, a fact which is fuelled by the advertising which we see on the TV.

Keeping up

In the upper end of the housing market there has always been a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ mentality with the most affluent homeowners, and this is fuelling the need for bigger and better technology in the home.

Multi room audio and video systems, bespoke media rooms, lighting control, automated curtains, pop-up TV cabinets, CCTV, video entry – nothing was impossible, and it still isn’t, if the budget is available.

Better options

It is the increase in the options available for hardware at every price level, and the increase in capability of the high end options which has led to the advent of a system which not only meets every need – it also now meets every budget.

Another key driver for home technology, particularly automation, is the green dream – taking simple control of lighting and heating as well as automatically turning off electrical devices to make the home more efficient.

In addition, with the credit crunch still not entirely a distant memory, many home owners are choosing to improve, rather than move and improving their access to useful technology is commonly in the top three on their wish list. The role has therefore fallen to innovation, through cross-contamination between AV, PC, control and telecom disciplines, to provide a variety of devices that ensure a simple and rewarding user experience – and all at a fraction of the cost of systems a decade ago.

A common language

In the past, enabling different systems to talk to each other and work seamlessly together was a matter of translating and converting the various control languages they used to push fit the systems together. Thankfully that has all changed and now the language of the PC; TCP/IP (Transport Control Protocol / Internet Protocol) is now driving the conversations on many smart home networks.

Established smart home control companies have all developed Ethernet protocols in addition to the older control methods and these enable them to provide a single, simple user interface for a variety of devices.

Devices that use infrared or RS232 or radio frequency or simple low voltage relays to switch and control devices can now all be accessed and controlled using one language, and one touch screen or keypad. Even signals that have been historically sent as an analogue signal (such as audio and video) are digital nowadays using streams of 1 and 0 over the network.

These signals, when being distributed to a number of screens, or sets of speakers around the smart home, are now sent as an Ethernet packet across the network, to be unwrapped and played back at their destination.

Another technology which has had a major impact is Apple’s iPhone, Touch and Pad which have now become control devices in the smart home environment. By sitting on the home network, using third party software called ‘apps’ (applications), your iPhone can control devices as diverse as DVD players, air conditioning, or lighting control as well as all of the other tasks you would normally associate with a mobile phone.

Systems integrator

All of these developments mean that the diversity, performance, and reliability of the modern home network is becoming absolutely paramount.

With the speed of development and change in the smart home marketplace, as well as the number of different systems available in any given sector (there are around 35 different multi-room audio systems), it is not a discipline where you can expect to be up-to-date for long!

Because of this a specialist sub-contractor has emerged over the last decade or so, and it is this person who understands the technologies and can deliver bespoke solutions, across all the key networks involved in home technology.

In the UK, the profession is know as Custom Electronic Installation but perhaps a more accurate term is used in the US – the Systems Integrator.

Despite a very common misconception, a robust, user friendly and future ready home, for any range of people, ages and catering for any degree of techno-savviness is not something that just happens organically.

In the modern home, multiple cable networks will carry broadband, telephony, radio, television, music, video, and control commands of different types and it requires a unique set of skills to specify, design, install, test, commission and then tailor them to meet the needs of the client.

This is where finding and working with a smart home partner company can pay great dividends.

Keeping the detail

From developing a specification with the vaguest of client briefs and providing the correct cabling through to full system layout, a CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) member company can take control of the important early stages, where the devil is most definitely in the detail.

Practical, neat and disciplined, the first and second fix of the cabling are all part of building the networks into the building. Commissioning and providing clear client training on the eventual system is also of paramount importance and your smart home partner can take much of the hassle out of delivering an intelligent home.

They will also carry all of the necessary insurances (including professional indemnity in some cases), and therefore can provide a valuable link to the knowledge, expertise and resources to deliver home technology, at whatever level for your clients.

Whether you embrace it or detest it, the simple fact is that technology is here
to stay and at the pace of change which we are currently experiencing, a dozen new products will have entered the market in the space of time it has taken you to read this. But the main message is don’t be scared of what is around the corner because by working with the right supplier you can make sure that technology is a welcome house guest.

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