Smart Homes For Real

January 7, 2015

_799128_pursepad300Smart Homes is a much talked about opportunity for IoT. It has what it takes to attract a lot of companies and people including those owning, managing, visiting and living or working in them. And beyond that also companies selling products and services for them. And the concept of smart homes is fluffy enough to include the three big deliverables of IoT: sustainability, safety and efficiency, as well as things like economy, comfort, fashion and entertainment.

We all know that a specific solution for every single task or device isn’t good enough. So the approach to make a remote controller for the toaster, one for the fridge and one for the kitchen fan (I actually saw a dedicated remote controller for the fan in Italy and I’m still thinking about the use-case) will not make the job. And we also know that “this is THE network for the SmartHome” approach isn’t taking us there since we already have a lot of different infrastructure and networks in houses and we have a number of different more or less technical requirements on them.

The combination of these two insights makes it hard to come up with Smart Home solutions that will capture large parts of the market, especially if we leave aside new buildings where one can start from scratch. I suggest something like a cluster approach to the challenge where we try to combine infrastructure, applications and tools to provide attractive solutions for larger parts of the Smart Home challenges. Let me give you a couple of examples what that could look like:

  • The ultimate Media solution which uses IP networks to stream content easily and flexibly to and from devices and services (bring the best from Sonos, AirPlay, Spotify, Netflix, etc). Once installed you could add, change and remove hardware and software components easily.
  • A really secure managed infrastructure with a tough SLA for applications and services that require an infrastructure to really trust. Applications could be alarms, door locking systems, smoke detectors and other things you are ready to pay extra for if the service is guaranteed.
  • A kitchen app that interact with all your favourite Internet services for cooking and shopping, your kitchen appliances regardless of brand (or not?) and maybe energy monitoring and advice relating to the kitchen.

I have concluded that we will have at least three networks in our homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi network which is already there, a managed very secure network with top-notch quality of service and a more generic but still managed network for things like home appliances. WAN solutions will generally speaking be too expensive and will just complement the LANs the way they always had. But some devices connected directly to a mobile network and/or narrow band WAN infrastructure like Sigfox will most certainly be part of the solutions.

One of the most interesting projects I’m currently involved in is a joint effort between a number of Swedish real estate owners and members of our alliance for Swedish IoT entrepreneurs (SMSE) with real estate focus. The request from the real estate owners was “a secure, robust and open service platform for multi-dwelling buildings” which they can install now, keep for years and have app developers to start bringing innovation to tenants, owners and maintenance staff.

We’re working with several technologies and one of the most interesting one is the well established Internet chat protocol XMPP since it provides a promising open architecture to deal with data integrity and privacy issues. We have already pulled together the bits and pieces required to run our first hackathon creating mobile apps on building automation systems talking XMPP. I’m looking forward to the next few months of this project which hopefully include a major hackathon demonstrating the power of this approach.

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What is Google up to?

June 24, 2014

dropcamMergers and acquisitions indicate rapidly growing markets ahead. Google made a 3.2B$ acquisition of Nest in January. Now they just followed on with an acquisition of the Wi-Fi surveillance camera maker Dropcam for 555M$. Thermostats, smoke alarms and cameras – what is Googles plan? I think it is the homes and maybe offices they are after. There are many thermostats, smoke alarms and smart cameras available but Nest and Dropcam definitely comes with a cool design which should at least bring home healthier margins. People love nice products! Google has always been interested in Wi-Fi and it’s not a wild bet that there will be Wi-Fi in homes and offices. But this can’t be enough, they must be going after a service model with recurring revenues and collecting data from these devices to store, manage, analyze and sell. I have always claimed that “data is the gold of M2M” and I am confident that Google shares that view.

Provided I’m right, I still questions that idea. Even if Google spend another couple of B$ to buy companies with cool things (Sonos could be a good target) they will never get market share over maybe 5-10% and scattered around. I understand that they could sell the information back to the users of these devices but that seems to be a difficult path to get the money back. And if they try to sell the data elsewhere I would believe the owners of the devices and policymakers would have a view on that. But Google knows all that. The recurring revenues are obviously attractive but it feels questionable to pay this much to get there.

On top of all I believe their will have to be at least three separate wireless networks in homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi with good performance but only best effort services, a really secure fully managed network for security related applications like door locks, surveillance and medical monitoring, and maybe even a third managed low bandwidth network for connecting things like fridges, coffee machines, etc. And even worse, we will see a mix of WAN and LAN technologies being used as well. I simply don’t see how one can deliver sensible services like surveillance or smoke detection over an unmanaged best effort Wi-Fi network. Successful companies with such services like Verisure today typically manage their own network.

So I am probably wrong. Goggle sees something I don’t. And they also understand the down-side of connected hardware since Nest just had to recall 440.000 smoke alarms due to a potential risk that they didn’t alarm immediately. But I am happy for their acquisitions since it stimulates entrepreneurs, customers and other companies who consider playing a sincere role in building the Internet of Everything.


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