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Do We Really Need a Home Automation Standard?

Home control pundits have said for two decades that an automation standard is required for mass adoption, but who needs them when protocol bridges abound?


For years, the common thinking was that home automation would never take off until we had standards.

And in 20 years – the modern era of home automation – we have failed to deliver a widely accepted protocol that would allow interoperability of thermostats, dimmers, motorized devices and other products that comprise a home control ecosystem.

Despite efforts (and some success) with X10, CEBus, LonWorks (prevalent in Europe), OSGi, Home API (HAPI), Simple Control Protocol (SCP) and most recently HomePlug Command & Control (CC), ZigBee and Z-Wave, we don’t appear to be nearing a real standard – that is, a standard like Ethernet that unquestionably spawned ubiquitous networking.

So the question is: Does it matter?

I think not.

Security Does Just Fine, Thank You


The residential security business has thrived over the years, even though alarm manufacturers use their own proprietary wireless protocols. When they want their panels to communicate with third-party systems, they do so through relays and bridges. Most popular security panels, for example, accommodate X10 devices, and some manufacturers are beginning to incorporate the wireless Z-Wave protocol into their products.

The problem with home automation standards is that various subsystems have their own needs that may or may not mesh with the needs of other devices on the home-control network.

Back to security: Homes may have dozens of wireless sensors, and those devices need to be as efficient as possible, in order to maximize battery life.

Most dimmers, on the other hand, need not be concerned about battery life since they are powered over the home’s A/C wiring.

Some products are large enough that the size of a radio or processor doesn’t matter. Others need to squeeze technology into a tiny space.





Home Automation Standard
 
Do We Really Need a Home Automation Standard?
Home control pundits have said for two decades that an automation standard is required for mass adoption, but who needs them when protocol bridges abound?
Road to Home Automation Standards Paved with Good Intentions
Will ZigBee succeed where CEBus, LonWorks, UPnP, SCP, HAPI, WSD and countless others have failed?
Has Home Automation Standard Finally Arrived? ZigBee Pro with Control4 as 'Anchor'
When Control4 switches to ZigBee Pro in 6 weeks, some 1 million installed ZigBee products (dimmers, thermostats, more) could interoperate with third-party devices; LG, Black & Decker on board.
What's the Difference between Z-Wave and ZigBee, and Should You Care?
Two wireless protocols fight for mindshare in the home control space, but how much should they matter to consumers?
Sigma's Acquisition of Zensys: Z-Wave in Settop Boxes?
Sigma could persuade settop box manufacturers to incorporate RF-based Z-Wave as an IR replacement and gateway to other Z-Wave automation products.
The Ultimate Guide to Home Automation 2009
It's been an interesting year for home automation - not just because of the sagging economy, but also because of new technological innovations.
Home Automation: Has Anything Changed in 15 Years?
We're still banking on utilities to jump-start the home automation industry and a "real" standard is "just around the corner."
Why H.A. Manufacturers Fail: Revisited
We've come a long way since January 2006, but all-IP home automation has a long way to go.
Industry Insider: Why H.A. Manufacturers Fail
In the 12 years I've been covering this industry, only two or three automation startups have succeeded in North America -- at least according to my barometer, which is two years of unqualified success with a strong indication of future viability.
Top 5 Trends 2006: Lighting & Home Automation
Way back before this whole broadband thing, it was all about automation. Before WiFi, before the Internet, there was X10, CEBus and LonWorks. But the Internet and its associated technologies stole the limelight in the late 1990s and into the new millennium.
 


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Article Topics

News · Home Automation and Control · Control Systems · Z-Wave · Control4 · Home Automation · Z-wave · Zigbee · Smart Energy · U-snap · Standards · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

5 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by DrFlick  on  02/01  at  08:21 AM

Julie,

I think that this article confuses some of the issues even more than they are already.  Some of your references, like profiles, highlight the upper layer communications protocols or specific areas defining how the capabilities of a device are exposed or controlled.  Other examples really are down lower at the transport layers – like Ethernet.  I think you may have missed one of the more fundamental issues for interoperability really plaguing the “energy industry” right now.  What PHY and MAC layer interfaces can white goods and appliance manufacturers install that will work as a way to communicate with revenue-grade infrastructures for the utilities.  This is one of the hottest topics for the “Smart Grid within the home” community right now.  That is more of a transport layer support issue than a device communications protocol stack interoperability layer problem like some of the examples you gave.  The other really hot topic is if TCP/IP is the standard on which those profiles you mentioned should be based and, if it is, does it make sense to support IPv4 for legacy products or to go to an IPv6 only solution?  The upper layers for home automation really become secondary to the lower layer communications problems the Smart Grid efforts need to resolve this year.

For instance, does it make sense to use the benefits of the 802.15.4 side of the ZigBee standards with a TCP/IP stack on top of it and XML-based schemas and encrypted SOAP messages instead of a full ZigBee stack with the Smart Energy profiles?  I tend to think so. 
With that said though, it is evident that gateways (or protocol bridges) will proliferate.  Most in the Smart Grid community agree.  I just think it is important to clarify where some of the real issues are and to not generalize all communications problems as “home automation protocols.”

  =D-

Derek R. Flickinger
Interactive Homes, Inc.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  02/01  at  09:10 AM

Leave it to you, Derek! Whether we’re talking about MAC or PHY layers doesn’t really matter.

The point is ... the adage that “we need a single HA standard or there will never be critical mass” no longer holds true. At least that’s my opinion.

Posted by DrFlick  on  02/01  at  10:10 AM

My point was that we have to be careful at what layers of the stack we are trying to communicate and interoperate and that we do not cloud the issue further than it already is by mixing technologies and terms potentially inappropriately.  Some of the upper layer protocols you can change via software while others are static and dependent upon the physical chips built into the devices.

I agree, gateways are the key to interoperability and plug in modules help get around some of the obsolescence problems.  However, I think the forces behind the need to have them developed are much different when looking over the horizon.  The primary goal needs to be that we, as an industry, do not preclude certain middle and higher-layer protocols that also are considered communications “standards” like TCP/IP, which technically is different than Ethernet (a lower-layer transport-style interface).

Looking at it from a different angle, we really did not have much of a need to standardize previously, which lowered the priority for taking the whole concept of HA to the next level.  Now we are seeing huge requirements to talk to the outside world, which raises the priority considerably.  It is not HA that is going to surge, it is the ability for devices to become part of a much larger ecosystem than the home.  Gateways are the inevitable solution for getting there.  I believe communicating with the is what is going to drive the need over the next decade, especially since it potentially means saving money for the consumer.

  =D-

Posted by Scott Burgess  on  02/03  at  06:13 AM

Julie,

A good article bar the key fact that there is in fact a worldwide open standard for building control called KNX. It has been adopted across many countries including all of Europe and China. The standard is ISO/IEC 14543-3 and 185 of the worlds largest electrical manufacturers in 28 countries are building products for 17,000 certified integrators around the world. Admittedly it has a long way to go before it gets anywhere near domination and there is no presence in the US at all. However it is a real life standard, it does satisfy the requirements for complete home automation, it runs over RF, TP and IP,  and there are bridges to virtually every other protocol. What more were you after? Perhaps someone should start lobbying the manufacturers to develop 110V versions of products for the US market? I know a number of them are already looking at doing so….
http://www.knx.org - the independent association that oversee’s the protocol

Posted by cm  on  02/08  at  04:12 PM

My first reaction when reading this article is that it confuses the general idea of a “standard” with the more specific idea of control protocols at various layers within the stack.  So, in that sense I agree with Derek.

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