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Beyond lighting control – wireless for smart homes

May 2012 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Beyond lighting control – wireless for smart homes
Beyond lighting control – wireless for smart homes

Smart technology and home automation have been discussed by industry experts for years, but until now it hasn’t seen the uptake expected. Things are changing, however. With the technology having developed to such a point that cost has lowered significantly, widespread uptake is starting to happen now. Jason Ng discusses why he believes smart technology will soon be commonplace in all new build homes.

The use of wireless technology has increased exponentially in recent times, and is becoming commonplace in the home and workplace – not least through the uptake of smartphones and tablets providing on-the-go access to the Internet. Wireless capabilities are no longer seen as a luxury, but as a technology that should be provided as standard. Despite this, the adoption of wireless technology to manage home automation has been relatively low so far.

However, developments in wireless technologies have led to lower price options and increased user-friendliness, and touch screen technology such as tablet PCs and smart phones which is now commonplace, means that people already have a means to control their smart home systems.

The need for energy saving has also seen wireless products, and particularly home automation systems, become more relevant to the mass market, helping to deliver the zero carbon targets demanded for all new homes in the UK by 2016.

Really simple to install

However, their real value is that they’re not just ideal for homeowners, but contractors too, because despite the myth that they are complicated to install, they are actually incredibly easy. There’s minimal additional training or investment required on behalf of the contractor, making it a smart revenue stream to tap into.

By coincidence, this has occurred at a very apt time. In the UK, new build opportunities are going to be much lower in the coming years. This presents a challenge for the industry, but also provides an opportunity. Whereas new builds are dwindling, opportunities for retrofit projects are likely to increase dramatically. This provides an excellent up-sell opportunity for forward-looking electrical contractors to generate an additional revenue stream. The reason is that wireless lighting and home automation systems are ideal for retrofit projects, because the existing wiring in a house can be used. In addition, with new product technologies such as Z-Wave incorporating MESH capabilities, wireless lighting controls have never been so reliable.

MESH makes easy

The MESH capability within Z-Wave allows over 200 mains-powered devices – such as switches and dimmers – to act as independent routers. Z-Wave differs from many other networks because the devices can all ‘speak’ to each other via multiple hops – up to four in total. The MESH network automatically chooses the optimum path to transmit a signal from one device to another, and because there is more than one path available between the source and the destination of the communication, these networks are incredibly reliable.

As Z-Wave is an open protocol with over 160 members, the possibilities to integrate products and systems from different manufacturers into a complete cohesive home automation system have now increased beyond just lighting control. They can be deployed to integrate with home audio-visual (AV) systems, security, appliances and even climate controls.

The installation and choice of functions can be adapted to individual needs and is being constantly developed to ensure that consumers really feel comfortable, secure and in control of their homes.

Global access for control

By adding a central control unit, homeowners can control security alarms, lighting, blinds and audio-visual systems with just a single push of a button. They can also use their smartphones or tablets to control their home automation system, not just inside the property, but from anywhere in the world. For example, lights or heating can be programmed or scheduled to operate at certain times, and even to simulate occupancy while on holiday.

Sensors can also be programmed with dual functions. If the owner is not at home, the sensor could trigger the alarm. But at night, the same sensor could be programmed to turn on the lights when the homeowner gets out of bed. The possibilities are endless, and the system is completely scalable, meaning that you can start with something basic, and add more devices and capabilities as and when required.

The increasing demand for more affordable home automation solutions, coupled with a growing need for products suitable for retrofit projects, will mean that demand for wireless lighting solutions using Z-wave is likely to increase significantly in the coming year or two, so there is no better time for electrical contractors to start tapping into this new opportunity by requesting training sessions.