By Steven Leussink and Ren? Kohlmann, SiTel Semiconductor B.V.
The home network market has grown consistently over the last few decades. According to recent research by InStat1, more than 300 million households worldwide will have a home network installed by 2011.
Perhaps the most familiar home networking application areas are computing and computer accessories. Most home computers these days are connected to wired or wireless networks that link them to other computers, printers, network-attached storage (NAS), internet gateways and the like. Similarly, we are using a growing number of accessories such as mice, headsets and keyboards to expand the functionality of computing or mobile devices, connecting them in an ad hoc fashion as and when we need them.
Now a third category of networked devices is about to enter our homes. Focusing on infrastructure applications such as automation, control, security and energy management, this category aims to make our daily lives more comfortable, safer and more energy efficient.
Each of these categories has different networking requirements. Even within a category different use cases and perspectives on technical arameters such as range, power consumption and data throughput have led to a myriad of networking protocols, each answering specific needs. However, having a single standard is important for wide-scale adoption of an application. It ensures interoperability and increases consumer confidence, leading to more nodes per network and creating value for both the end user and service aggregator.
In the more mature categories (computing and computer accessories), clear winners have emerged: namely Wi-Fi and Ethernet for computing and Bluetooth and USB for accessories. But this shake-out of protocols has yet to start in Home Automation Control and Security (HACS). This area still uses a myriad of networking technologies including: Z-Wave, Zigbee / 802.15.4, Wavenis, Power line, Insteon, X10, M-bus, Lonworks and HomePlug.
Currently, the use of dedicated wired HACS networks is restricted to new buildings. The one exception is power-line technologies, but these are limited by the number and location of power sockets in each room. Wireless technologies are much easier to install in existing homes, so much of the industry’s interest is focused here.
That still leaves a large number of competing technologies. A wireless network protocol has to balance requirements such as range, power consumption, reliability, bandwidth and cost. Each of the current protocols has strengths and weaknesses in particular areas, without demonstrating a compelling overall advantage.
However, there is one technology that is often overlooked when discussing HACS networks. It is a technology that, according to a recent MZA report2, is already installed in 245 million households worldwide and features in around 80 million new systems for the home sold annually. That technology is DECT.
An evolving technology with a strong history Launched in 1987, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) is a flexible digital radio access standard for cordless communication in residential, business and public environments. It employs several advanced techniques that enable highly efficient use of the radio spectrum. As a result, it delivers high voice quality, raw data rates up to 1 Mb/s, secure communication and a low risk of interference.
Over time DECT has evolved into Cordless Advanced Technology ? internet and quality (CAT-iq). This is an enhancement of the DECT standard that offers even better voice quality and enables the integration of cordless telephony and internet services. It allows DECT phones to be used for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other internet-based applications such as audio streaming.
Supported by leading telecom operators, DECT technology and its CAT-iq incarnation are already being integrated into many home gateways and Integrated Access Devices (IADs). These devices make home networking simpler for consumers by doing away with the need for separate modem, router and telephone base station. IMS Research predicts DECT / CAT-iq penetration in all kinds of IADs (including cable, xDSL and fiber) will reach 31% by 20133.
One reason that DECT has been overlooked for HACS networks until now is the perception that its power consumption is too high for “fix-and-forget” autonomous nodes. However, the latest DECT products include an ultra-low power mode known as DECT ULP. This enables sensor-actuator nodes to operate autonomously for 5-10 years on a standard AAA battery. Fully compatible with previous DECT / CAT-iq generations, DECT ULP offers the same voice quality, reliability, secure communication and plug-and-play installation as the extensive installed base of DECT systems.
With the CAT-iq and DECT ULP developments, DECT exceeds the technical requirements for a HACS network protocol. Factor in its strong consumer acceptance, wide installed base and connectivity to the outside and it is clear that DECT ULP ticks more of the boxes for HACS networks than any of the current networking option. Out of the myriad of options proposed, DECT ULP is the obvious choice to bring HACS products and networks widest possible audience.