The Planet of the Small Apps

Deep Dive

The Planet of the Small Apps

By Ken Osowski, Director of Solutions Marketing  |  March 17, 2014

Home automation has been around for a while, but has been primarily pursued as an expensive hobby by well-heeled consumers supported by small home automation companies that provided the expertise to implement the technology integration and customization required for every installation. For early adopters of home automation solutions, the benefits were tangible, but so were the high costs needed to make it all work.

The home automation market is now undergoing revolutionary changes driven by new direct-to-consumer business models adopted by innovative start-ups that are enabled by new technology ecosystems. Leading the advances in new technology are common household appliances and devices such as TVs, home audio components, refrigerators, thermostats, security systems, and light bulbs and switches becoming smart devices. The second technology wave has been the emergence of control protocols that can operate these devices using wireless or wired connectivity inside the home. These include a broad range of proprietary and open home automation-specific wireless protocols including Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Insteon, to name a few. Wireless connectivity protocols we are more familiar with such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are also being used. All of these control protocols allow smart device functions to be controlled locally by the user.

Home automation technology often gets lumped into a discussion of M2M and the Internet of Things with the assumption that smart devices require Internet access – which is not necessarily the case. We all seem to cope with not having electricity for short periods of time, but we would have a hard time dealing with not being able to turn on the lights or unlock the front door if our Internet connection went down. At minimum, some basic class of smart device functions needs to be controlled locally without Internet access. For example, the Nest thermostat can be used to turn the temperature up and down as with a conventional thermostat. In fact the Nest thermostat is designed more like a conventional round Honeywell (News - Alert) thermostat than current square LCD electronic thermostats to facilitate this mode of manual operation. Nest provides cloud access to advanced programming features and remote control through both a web portal and mobile device applications. Sonos, the wireless speaker manufacturer, allows the user to control speaker volume connected to a local audio source if all else fails.

But the control of smart devices is quickly moving toward requiring an Internet connection. New devices sometimes called hubs are being offered to consumers that act as a single point of access and operate over the Internet to control various smart devices from different manufacturers through one application interface to simplify device usage. For example, the Revolv automation hub implements various wireless protocols (currently Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and Insteon) in one device to centralize all key smart device control functions through its own application. In this scenario, Sonos speakers, Phillips lighting, and Yale door locks are all controlled through the same application. By having one program control all the devices, users can create event or location-specific automation logic (referred to as geo-fencing) that opens the front door, turns on the lights, and adjusts the temperature as you drive into your neighborhood. Or the user can program activities that configure the audio and lighting in the house for entertaining or program time-of-day conditions that require a series of smart device functions to be performed in the morning including brewing the coffee. This is the next phase of home automation solutions that will put automation programming in the hands of the user. In this phase we will see the emergence of small apps that are configured by users to manage their smart devices, not just vendor-supplied programs tied to one device that perform a limited set of functions.

These capabilities will put a significant data session signaling load on current broadband networks. And the profile of this Internet traffic will be different in the sense that the data sessions will be short, but plentiful. Current DPI platforms that analyze and classify high traffic volumes will also need to scale to identify many more small app device sessions that home automation solutions will bring. This can present scaling challenges to DPI systems in fundamental architectural ways that they have not yet encountered.

Ken Osowski (News - Alert) is senior director of solutions marketing at Procera Networks (www.proceranetworks.com).


Ken Osowski is director of solutions marketing at Procera Networks (News - Alert) (www.proceranetworks.com).

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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