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  1. Your smart home's fragile existence relies on a factor you can't control… the internet Without it, it's useless A less than useful smart display with no internet connection (Image credit: TechRadar) "Our door camera is offline… not sure why?" That's the message I received from my partner one afternoon. It was a Wednesday, I was at work, and so was she. Our smart home... was dead. For all the positive reviews, in-your-face marketing, consumer hype, and billions of dollars driven into its R&D, the smart home has a major Achilles heel that's completely out of your control. The internet. Until your internet connection fails, you don't realize just how crucial it is. If you think about it, it's obvious, but the point of a smart home is you don't have to think about it: it's there, in the background, quietly taking care of things and letting you get on with your life. All the useful little features – the various 'life hacks' companies are so desperate for you to lap up as they roll out yet another feature, update or brand new device – are all rendered useless. I was the first home that day, but not until late in the evening. By then my internet provider's call centers were long closed, and any hope of an instant resolution was lost. From smart to simple It's only when the internet connection to my house failed, I realized just how many devices relied on it. My smart speakers around the house would bark at me that they were struggling to connect to a network if I dared utter "okay Google", and the Google Home Hub smart display in the bedroom displayed a message saying it couldn't connect – no nice wallpaper pictures, no date or time, even though it had power. Just the error message. With no voice assistants on the smart speakers or display, I wasn’t able to ask for the Philips Hue lights to be switched on, the temperature to be increased via the Nest Thermostat E, or my robot vacuum to give the floor a quick sweep. It wasn’t just voice commands. With no Wi-Fi at home, the apps on my smartphone were also redundant. I wasn’t without lights, heating or a functioning vacuum, of course. All were manually available – a flick of a switch, the turn of a dial and the press of a button allowed for basic functionality – but any advanced features were unavailable. Without the internet, functionality of my smart TV and games console was also reduced. Access to TV apps such as Netflix and Prime Video were out of the question, as was online gaming. The phone apps for my smart home devices were rendered useless (Image credit: TechRadar) And then there was the device which originally alerted us to the issue – the Nest Hello doorbell. We received an email that it had gone offline, which led to an investigation on my smartphone and the realization that our home had lost its internet connection, rather than the Hello developing a fault. While the loss of the doorbell feature allowing us to make sure our Amazon package was delivered safely to a neighbor was slightly frustrating, it was the loss of the security monitoring that was of a greater concern. The Hello is able to record a few seconds of footage any time movement or sound is detected, and alerts you via a smartphone notification. Without an internet connection though, the camera is unable to record any footage, as it’s stored directly in the cloud, rather than locally on the device. Thankfully, we didn’t have any issues during the downtime, but it does make you re-evaluate just how much trust you can have in these products, as many smart home security cameras operate in a similar way. The smarts return, with a possible solution In all, our internet was out for just over 20 hours: in the grand scheme of things not a huge problem, in isolation. However, it wasn’t just our property. Our internet provider had issues with its broadband across the region, which meant we won’t have been the only smart home to go offline. For just less than a day, it was nothing more than a mild inconvenience, but in a situation where your internet connection possibly breaks for multiple days, and as smart devices become more ingrained into the working of our homes, the issues here are real. They need addressing if the technology can be trusted to effectively control key areas of our life. If you can't rely on your smart home, integrating more complex devices and tasks into it will be a difficult sell. Perhaps the introduction of 5G could provide assistance, with the traditional cabled internet line into your home working in tandem with a 5G connection. If one goes down, the other seamlessly takes over. In the UK, mobile carrier EE announced a router which offered this back in May 2018 (although it was 4G and not 5G), but mobile networks are still not widely available enough, nor support this level or usage for this product to be viable for the mass population. As the 5G network roll out continues, bringing next-gen coverage and speeds to more areas, this dual-connection router becomes a far more viable option, and it may just solve the problem for our smart homes. Source: Your smart home's fragile existence relies on a factor you can't control… the internet (TechRadar)
  2. Apple, Google, and Amazon team up to create “CHIP,” a new smart home standard Will this be the one smart home standard to rule them all or just another entry? Enlarge Zigbee Apple, Google, Amazon, and the Zigbee Alliance have all teamed up to make a new smart home standard. The new working group went live today under the name of "Project Connected Home over IP" with announcement blog posts from Google, Apple, Zigbee, and a new website, connectedhomeip.com. The name doesn't sound too catchy until you realize "Connected Home over IP" abbreviates to "CHIP" which, across all these blog posts, is quietly used only a single time in the official FAQ. According to the new website, "The goal of the Connected Home over IP project is to simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers." But thanks to XKCD, we all know that one new standard to "unite them all" often just results in making one additional standard available, but assuming the companies involved actually support their own standard, this could—maybe—make things easier for consumers. Currently, Apple's smart home ecosystem is HomeKit, and it works over IP (usually Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth LE. Amazon has the "Works with Alexa" program, and while Echos can handle IP connections, the smart home focused models also have Zigbee (an IEEE 802.15.4-based low-power, low-data-rate mesh network) built into them. Google being Google means it has several overlapping and competing smart home ecosystems at various stages of adoption. The company is working on shutting down the "Works with Nest" ecosystem in favor of the "Works with Google Assistant" ecosystem, which is IP-based. Google's Nest division has also cooked up the "Thread" network protocol, which, just like Zigbee, is an IEEE 802.15.4-based low-power, low-data-rate mesh network. While Thread can be radio compatible with Zigbee's ~900MHz or 2.45Ghz signal, Thread adds the ability to be wrapped in an IP packet and travel over Wi-Fi or the Internet. Nest also has the "Weave" communication standard, which defines how to send a message like "turn on the light" over the Thread or Wi-Fi network. In addition to Apple, Google, Amazon, and Zigbee, the site says that "Zigbee Alliance board-member companies IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian are also on board to join the Working Group and contribute to the project." Enlarge / The list of participating companies. Connected Home IP It's impossible to know how truly committed each company is to Project CHIP at this stage, but the promised goal of building devices that are "compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, and others" sounds great. Compatibility with the major voice-command systems is a primary concern for any new smart home product, and being able to tackle the big three with a single standard sounds a lot easier than implementing three separate APIs. Project CHIP is open source. The site says "The reference implementation of the new standard, and its supporting tooling, will be developed and maintained on the GitHub open source platform for all aspects of the specification. Please stay tuned for more information." The website also says the new standard will be "royalty-free," which is not currently the case for Zigbee or Apple's HomeKit. IP based As the name suggests, the new standard will be IP based, and it "aims to enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services and to define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification." The site says the project aims to build "a new, unified connectivity protocol" that will "use contributions from market-tested smart home technologies from Amazon, Apple, Google, Zigbee Alliance, and others." It sounds like, for starters, there will be three main network standards supported by the new project. "The goal of the first specification release will be Wi-Fi, up to and including 802.11ax (aka Wi-Fi 6)... Thread over 802.15.4-2006 at 2.4 GHz; and IP implementations for Bluetooth Low Energy, versions 4.1, 4.2, and 5.0 for the network and physical wireless protocols." No single network protocol is right for all devices and use cases. Wi-Fi is fast but power-hungry, which is great for plugged-in devices. Thread (or Zigbee) is slow, but it's ultra-low power, allowing a single coin battery to power something like a door sensor for months thanks to the low power usage. The working group says, "We expect that compliant devices must implement at least one supported technology and not necessarily all." So accessory manufacturers will just pick the most appropriate technology, while a hub would support all three. The FAQ on the new site says the working group won't unify smart home user interfaces "such as voice assistants, smart displays, or desktop and mobile apps." That means Google, Amazon, and Apple will be free to compete in those areas—they'll just be competing with an even playing field of device support. The CHIP working group has "a goal to release a draft specification and a preliminary reference open source implementation in late 2020." Source: Apple, Google, and Amazon team up to create “CHIP,” a new smart home standard (Ars Technica)
  3. NEW YORK (Reuters) - A producer of “smart home” software that helps landlords cut operating costs such as shuttling keys to waiting maintenance workers or guiding tours for prospective tenants has raised $32 million from Bain Capital Ventures and the owners of nearly 1 million U.S. apartments. Bain led the Series B fundraising round with $25 million on Wednesday for SmartRent, which is up against Latchable Inc and Google Nest for a foothold in the market for technology that helps property owners boost profit margins and generate new revenue streams through add-on services for tenants. The remaining funds came from RET Ventures, a venture capital fund of 18 U.S. and Canadian property management or investment companies, including five real estate investment trusts. Apartment owners Essex Property Trust Inc and UDR Inc, along with Starwood Capital, the investment arm of billionaire property mogul Barry Sternlicht, also made separate investments in addition to their stakes in RET Ventures. The companies declined to comment on what valuation the funding round places on SmartRent. Among other services, the Scottsdale, Arizona, startup allows owners to set up self-guided tours for prospective residents and give maintenance and others access to homes with a door lock code. Investors are betting smart home technology such as remote access to cooling and heating systems and water leak detection will become standard at apartments. These functions will reduce operating costs, including insurance premiums to cover water damage, which can run to more than $10,000 per occurrence. Access through a mobile device or a numerical lock already has saved Denver-based UDR money, kept residents happy and reduced the hassle of losing or forgetting a key, often late at night, said Jerry Davis, president and chief operating officer. “We’ve experienced a reduction in lock-outs, so that increases resident satisfaction. It also means our guys aren’t getting called out in the middle of the night and being paid overtime,” he said. At the REITweek conference earlier this month, UDR said it has generated a 25% to 30% return in a pilot program involving 13,300 of its 49,795 apartment units and expects to have SmartRent installed in 20,000 units by the end of summer. SmartRent’s cost, including installing door locks, water sensors and other hardware, ranges from $900 to $1,000 a unit, Davis said. UDR expects residents to pay a $20 to $25 monthly fee, with the program’s cost paid off in three to four years and a unit’s life estimated at six to seven years, he said. There are about two dozen connected home or remote-access providers in the market, such as Latchable, maker of the Latch digital lock system, and Alphabet Inc’s Google Nest. Last year, Latchable raised $70 million, much of it from real estate heavyweight Brookfield Asset Management Inc, which valued it at $250 million. SmartRent Chief Executive Lucas Haldeman is a former chief technology officer of Colony American Homes, now Invitation Homes. UDR’s Davis said Haldeman impressed RETV members with his knowledge of the apartment market and its needs. There are about 23 million U.S. apartment units and if each delivers $1,000 in revenue, the market is north of $20 billion, said Matt Harris, a New York-based partner at Bain. Bain believes smart apartments will become ubiquitous as the technology is rolled out over the next five to 10 years. But apartment owners who get in early will be able to charge for the service, an opportunity that eventually will pass. Remote access is increasingly an essential feature as package and food deliveries proliferate and baby sitters, dogwalkers and maintenance personnel require access while residents are away, said Yishai Lerner, co-chief executive of JLL Spark, the venture capital fund of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. “The adoption curve has gotten from nice to have to must have,” said Lerner. Source
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