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Smart Home

Bringing New Value: Growing Role of Smart Home Platforms: Insights from Z-Wave Alliance

Parks Associates continues its twenty-sixth annual CONNECTIONS™ with our in-person conference in Frisco, Texas on May 17-19. Mitch Klein, Executive Director at Z-Wave Alliance will be featured on the panel, Bringing New Value: Growing Role of Smart Home Platforms, on May 18 at 8:30 AM CT which addresses how companies in this space can leverage platforms and industry standards to provide a reliable, interoperable ecosystem with a simplified user experience, delivering expanded value through enhanced features, cloud intelligence, and security to protect user data and privacy. Prior to the session, Mitch provided insights on how smart home products are evolving and consumer insights that will have an impact over the next few years.

How can the industry’s push towards interoperability (Matter, etc.) in 2022 drive mass adoption of smart home solutions and connected devices?

Interoperability drives the industry forward, which is one of the reasons why that has been a core tenet of Z-Wave for over two decades. Customers expect their devices to work together and it is on the industry as a whole to deliver on that experience promise for the end-user. The Matter initiative, brought forth by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, aims to unify device communication so that connected devices can work better together, across both wireless technologies and smart home ecosystems. Having championed interoperability for the past 20 years, the Z-Wave Alliance applauds these efforts, and we welcome Matter and its member companies into the mission towards interoperability. By bringing down end-user and developer barriers in IoT, we will see new applications and services leveraging IoT – new areas both within and outside of the smart home market will continue to grow.

What new challenges have emerged in the last year in securing the smart home? And what strategies are being used to alleviate consumer privacy concerns?

Data privacy has been a growing and persistent threat. Today, securing the smart home goes so much further beyond simply making sure you have some security sensors and a smart lock installed. While those devices work to keep the home physically secure, the protocols and means of communication through which the smart home is connected must also be secure. When on the search for smart home technology, the Z-Wave Alliance provides consumers with some standard recommendations.

First, customers should work to make sure their home network is secure. This is an easy first step that goes a long way to protecting data and privacy. This step includes creating a custom, complex password for the home network. Many home networks setup with default “admin/admin” as both the username and password and, if those are not modified, that information provides a completely unlocked digital door into a smart home system. Beyond the credentials for the home network itself, the same principle applies to any smart home apps. Securing access to both the network and the applications themselves with robust naming and passwords goes a long way in locking down unauthorized digital access.

The second recommendation the Z-Wave Alliance makes is to seek out devices and solutions with additional security built-in. For example, as of 2017, all Z-Wave devices submitted for certification into the ecosystem which is now 4,000+ strong, must deploy S2 Security, which safeguards Z-Wave devices, and the Z-Wave network from virtual attacks.

How are smart home products and services evolving to serve multi-dwelling unit (MDUs) markets? What key challenges and opportunities are manufacturers facing?
Smart home technology is not just for homeowners; increasingly renters and residents of MDU units are beginning to expect that their units come equipped with the technology to manage their daily lives. There is a huge opportunity for both dealers and manufacturers to service this market – and we see it as a segment that will only continue to grow. Z-Wave members have found success working directly with developers and property managers – as there is a clear value proposition not only for the residents but for the owners or managers of each property.

Technology like smart thermostats, locks, sensors and lighting can create an environment that feels safe and comfortable for apartment dwellers and is easy to monitor for property managers. Property managers or owners can monitor buildings remotely with up-to-date information on the functionality of HVAC systems, fire and smoke detectors, and install leak sensors throughout the building that instantly alert them of a flooding event. If systems within the building spring a leak or experience a disruption of service, notifications will be sent directly to the property managers’ smartphone, tablet or PC, making it easy to mitigate disasters.

The challenge continues to be educating decision-makers on how the initial investment in technology will continue to pay dividends both in terms of happy residents and also easing the burden of property management. Technology is not just for luxury properties it can provide value at every price point.

How do consumers view technology now versus before the Pandemic?

Following a period of unprecedented challenges, connected home consumers relied on security systems, voice-controlled devices, and sensors to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable at home. The pandemic put the value proposition of smart home technology under a microscope, revealing what the technology can deliver to those familiar with it, and unfamiliar with it. One aspect of the connected home that I believe consumers view differently post-pandemic is voice control. After a period of increased awareness about spreading germs, customers started to opt to use voice commands to perform actions without physically having to touch a surface. This has left consumers asking, “what else can I control with my voice?” as they seek out smart home solutions in the venue of lighting, shading, and even home entertainment to add voice-control to.
For consumers who already have a smart home system, or a security system in place, the increased time spent at home put these systems through stress tests. Pre-pandemic, what might have been an acceptable system given the at-home/away from the home schedule of the household may have no longer successfully served the needs of consumers stuck at home. With consumers spending more time at home than ever, the soft spots in their systems were exposed, and many took action to fix this by researching, buying and installing additional smart home technology. For example, given the influx of at-home delivery in the form of packages and/or take out, a household without a doorbell camera pre-pandemic, likely now has one installed. This is because consumers witnessed the benefit of receiving a notification that their package or food had arrived while balancing working from and learning from home.
During lockdown, many consumers were not letting professionals into their homes for assessments or installation. However, as restrictions began to lift, and consumers began to feel more comfortable slightly expanding their contact circles, smart home professionals started to experience an uptick in business from customers looking to bolster their smart home system after living with it full time. While there was certainly an increase in DIY installation, shortly thereafter, the professional install space witnessed a boom that’s yet to slow down as well.

How has the rise of DIY security impacted the adoption of home security solutions?

Findings from the 2022 Z-Wave State of the Ecosystem Report found that DIY installation has become a dominant means of installation among consumers across many device categories. While this may seem like bad news for professional installers, the news is quite the opposite! Not only does this drive awareness; but at some point, consumers want to add more capabilities than they can handle both time-wise and learning curve. That is where I see continued opportunity for the “do it with me category”. In this model, integrators can serve as a professional resource to help clients build out their smart home ecosystem and become their IT expert. DIY adoption being up is a byproduct of increased awareness. This combination of factors is the best-case scenario for installers, as it means there are opportunities just waiting to be seized. The appetite for more devices continues to grow especially among those that have opted for a security system or home control system.

As the smart home experience expands outside the home, how will the role of the car evolve as part of the smart home ecosystem for consumers?

The smart home is already well on its way to expanding beyond the walls of the home. One such force driving that forward is Z-Wave Long Range, which ushers in a new era of Z-Wave connectivity and brings expanded options for the smart home, multi-dwelling units, and even hospitality use cases. Z-Wave LR has been engineered to provide a significantly extended wireless range, support robust networks, and extend Z-Wave connectivity beyond the interior boundaries of the home to improve the wireless transmission range of peripheral devices. The first of these devices has already started to hit the market. For example, the Ecolink 700 Series Garage Door Controller was recently announced as the first to pass certification.

Protocols like Z-Wave LR that push the boundaries of the smart home allow for new categories of devices and new opportunities. A mailbox, for example, down at the end of a long driveway can be outfitted with a battery-operated long-range sensor that provides a notification when the mail has arrived, or when a car (or person) drives by, alerting the homeowner to either an expected (or unexpected) guest. New technology that pushes connectivity to the boundaries of the property also opens up smart connectivity to additional structures, such as garages, sheds, workshops, pool houses, and more.

What is your company’s vision for the consumer at home in 2025? 2030?

As the Z-Wave Alliance looks into the crystal ball, the vision we see come into focus is that of the contextually aware home. With the increased adoption of AI and ML systems, the future of the smart home is built around contextually aware devices capable of creating a personalized, seamless smart home experience for a variety of users as specific information, such as the weather outside, the time of the day, the season, will allow the home to make informed decisions on its own. To get there, the smart home needs more sensors and more data. Sensors in each room of the home provide the data that supports the devices in taking action, based on the user who has entered the room, and their preferences. We’re already seeing the industry head in this direction. As the cost to produce smart home sensors goes down, and the technology advances, enabling longer range, and long battery life, we expect to see an increase in sensor deployment in hard-to-reach places – designed to collect valuable data for the home. With a battery life of up to 10 years on a single coin cell battery, these “throwaway sensors” can be deployed under appliances, in the attic, basement, under floorboards, behind drywall, or even in furniture to collect the data that will fuel the smart homes of the future.

Sponsored by Alarm.com, Calix, Cox Communications, F-Secure, Homebase, Plume, Airties, Bitdefender, Johnson Controls, Notion, A Comcast Company; Nice North America, Rapid Response Monitoring, Resideo, Schneider Electric, STRATIS®, A RealPage Company; AmTrust Warranty & Specialty Risk; Gadgeon, Ivani, Midea, Cooktop Safety, Iris® Powered by Generali and Assurant, CONNECTIONS™  is the pre-eminent executive conference on digital living technologies.

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