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Interoperability: A key barrier to connected home adoption

The objective of the connected home experience is to enhance the lifestyle of the consumer, delivering an anytime, anywhere, borderless lifestyle where all devices work together whether the applications are entertainment, home control or energy management. The connected home makes it easier and simpler to accomplish what people are already doing today. Many daily activities like eating, sleeping, driving to work, listening to music, watching television, reading a book or going shopping can be enhanced by connected technology.

For the promise of this truly connected home to be realized, it is imperative that the connected devices can exchange data among themselves as well as with third-party applications and services. Common barriers to smart home market growth are the results of interoperability challenges, and include inconsistent and limited connectivity capabilities, lack of contextual richness of data expensive devices with long lifespans, and point-to-point integration strategies that quickly become unmanageable.

Parks Associates has identified the following key challenges that the industry must overcome to accomplish a true smart home experience.

Bridging different home area networks

The past few years have seen a lot of activities by players in the Internet of Things (IoT) space to address the issue of interoperability. A number of industry alliances have formed to work towards creating common standards and communication protocols to allow devices, cloud services and applications to communicate and exchange data.

The smart home landscape is currently littered with a plethora of proprietary as well as open source communication protocols in an attempt to connect devices with one another.

The leading communication protocols in use in the smart home space include Z-Wave, ZigBee, IEEE 802.15.4, 6LoWPAN, DECT ULE and Low Power Wi-Fi. Each of these protocols has its own strengths and weaknesses, which make them suitable for specific use cases. Parks Associates believes that there will not be a single winner of this war of protocols; all will continue to co-exist for the foreseeable future.

Integrating platforms and connected products

In addition to the communication protocols, a plethora of industry standards attempt to create a framework for integrating devices, services and applications. These standards either are backed by a group of technology companies or come from influential platform players such as Apple or Google. Small device makers and app developers — which have limited resources — must weigh the pros and cons from both technology and business perspectives. In most cases, it is an overwhelming task to pick a side, and also a costly one to support multiple standards in order to hedge their bets.

Popular industry standards include:

Integrating apps

Finally, there is an additional challenge of bridging apps used for different connected devices. As consumer adoption of smart home devices accelerates, the number of connected devices in a household is also expected to grow. Mobile apps are the primary interface for these connected devices in a smart home. Parks Associates data indicates that more than 80% of smartphone/tablet users who use at least one smart home device have downloaded mobile apps for these devices.

The frequency of smart home app use is on the rise too. Parks Associates research shows that nearly half of broadband households with a smart motorized garage door opener use a smartphone, tablet or computer to control the opener daily or almost daily.

In this context, consumers navigating multiple apps for use of connected devices within a smart home act as a deterrent to adoption of connected devices. A number of technology solution providers have developed hubs or gateways and a corresponding mobile application that serves as a dashboard to the connected home. These solution providers come from a multitude of backgrounds and include service providers, home improvement retailers and security companies, as well as startups.

As the smart home market is increasingly moving towards a battle among multiple ecosystems led by influential companies from the technology sector and the service provider industry, it has become urgent that the industry must accomplish interoperability at all three levels: device-to-device connectivity, device to-platform and app-to-app. A close collaboration among smart home ecosystems could minimize the danger of fragmented user experience and bolster healthy growth of this exciting market.

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