Parks Associates continued its twenty-sixth annual CONNECTIONS™ conference with our in-person conference in Frisco, Texas on May 17-19. Amanda Forsyth, Director of Product Management at Cognitive Systems. Ahead of the conference, Amanda provided insights on how smart home products are evolving and consumer insights that will have an impact over the next few years. Amanda spoke on the panel, Health and Wellness Solutions: Expanding the Market, on May 19 at 1:00 PM CT which addresses the drastic changes in the connected health market over the past two years and the impacts these changes will have on the smart home market. Continue reading to discover Amanda's insights on the evolution of the smart home market.
How can the industry’s push towards interoperability (Matter, etc.) in 2022 to drive mass adoption of smart home solutions and connected devices?
Interoperability is not something that can be accomplished overnight. A consistent, dedicated effort is required to achieve the desired model of rapid and standardised digital integration and efficient data exchange. While progress may appear to be slow at times, it is still moving. That means the industry and its organizations must plan ahead. Businesses must ensure that their technologies, systems, or services can support interoperability now. Those in the industry can help drive the push towards interoperability and even mass adoption of smart homes or connected solutions by getting involved, in addition to incorporating long-term strategic thinking. Standards are extremely important in the development of technology through critical iteration and mind-sharing with industry experts. Matter and the IEEE, through their 802.11bf standard, are supporting the movement of WiFi Sensing standardization, which will see interoperability gain traction more quickly, ensuring a faster path to mass adoption.
As consumers’ broadband needs in the home expand (remote work, virtual school, etc.), what challenges and opportunities are present for broadband and other solutions providers?
One major challenge is that, in order to grow, service providers must add new services. Whether it's due to evolving technologies, rising customer demands, or increased competitive pressure, broadband providers need to introduce new solutions to their customers to retain and grow their subscriber base. These new opportunities are a result of the increased time customers are spending at home, as they demand more and more from their home environment. The days of poor WiFi performance are over. Consumers are redefining previous expectations and transforming their home ecosystems. To meet these demands in an era of supply chain issues and frustrations with single-function devices, solution providers must consider software-based, rather than hardware-based, solutions.
The increased reliance on home networks also presents a plethora of opportunities. Solution providers can use their previously established infrastructure to support the mass adoption and smooth rollout of new technologies, particularly those that can be deployed with a simple software update. After all, the more time consumers spend at home using broadband providers' networks, the more influential service providers become. Customers are reimagining their networks as they reimagine their homes. Broadband providers are well-positioned to offer new services to meet increased demand while maintaining current product offerings.
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?
Consumer privacy concerns in smart homes are a multifaceted issue. The smart home is a conglomeration of various companies and devices that use unique technologies and services. Each of these must interact in some way, though not always under the same standards or rules. However, as the smart home evolves, these approaches will become more unified and standardized. As a result, businesses, government regulations, consumers, and relevant industry organizations must consciously incorporate privacy into their operations and long-term plans. This problem will not be solved by a single company or method, but rather by coordinated collaboration.
In the last five years, there has been significant progress in the area of privacy. For example, our standardization work with the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), specifically our co-founded WiFi Sensing group, is scrutinizing current WiFi and WiFi Sensing practices so that future iterations, standards, and legislation are more mindful of consumer privacy. Privacy was built into our WiFi Motion technology at Cognitive from the beginning. We understand that the home is a sanctuary, and we wanted to reflect that with a non-intrusive solution.
What are some of the new home services that manufacturers are introducing to extend the value of smart home devices in ways that add convenience to consumers’ lifestyles? What key challenges impact each service?
WiFi is the lifeblood of smart home devices. Beyond communication, the technology itself remains largely untapped. There are numerous industries in which ISPs or broadband providers can participate by leveraging their networks. Take WiFi Sensing, for example. This technology has numerous applications, such as home monitoring, eldercare, smart home automation, and others. Such new home services are especially appealing to ISPs because they can be deployed simply through software upgrades rather than more time-consuming hardware changes. ISPs can transform the value of a customer's home network with WiFi Sensing, providing a plethora of benefits such as peace of mind, comfort, safety, and convenience. Consumers will benefit the most from ecosystem-based solutions. This entails developing services that can operate within a robust network of interconnected devices to provide enhanced functionality. A perfect example is the smart home. The main challenge, however, is interoperability. A home's connected devices must be able to communicate with one another and, ideally, leverage one another. Service providers must consider systems that complement one another and work seamlessly together.
What innovations have you seen that will address the existing needs of the elderly to enable independent living in the smart home?
Most eldercare products on the market today provide only reactive monitoring, which means that a caregiver is only notified when something bad happens, such as a fall. Cognitive’s eldercare solution, unlike other monitoring solutions, does not include intrusive technologies such as cameras or microphones, nor does it require users to remember to charge and properly use wearables. Caregiver Aware is focused on monitoring loved ones as they age in place. It provides peace of mind and insights into well-being while still respecting privacy, dignity, and independence. Caregivers can customize notifications based on the senior's daily routine to keep track of what's most important to them. Artificial intelligence algorithms create a baseline of the home environment, or how it "looks" when there is no movement. It can learn normal patterns of movement over time, identify trends and predict behavior, and send an alert when the senior's activity is out of the ordinary.
How are smart home products and services evolving to serve multidwelling unit (MDUs) markets? What key challenges and opportunities are manufacturers facing?
Signal interference is a significant challenge for smart home products or services in MDU markets. Connected devices are not only close to one another within these spaces, but also to the networks of their neighbors. This presents a challenge in determining which devices belong to which ecosystem for optimal functionality. Furthermore, there are privacy concerns with close-proximity ecosystems in which a neighbor could, for example, connect to a smart TV that is not theirs. We believe that data reliability is critical in the world of WiFi Sensing. We conduct extensive testing in a variety of simulated environments to account for MDUs and a wide range of housing sizes, building materials, layouts, and so on. We've included the ability to fine-tune the sensitivity of a given home's motion sensing to account for signal interference in these types of living scenarios based on data collected during our QA process.
What strategies are needed to achieve a unified experience in the home for consumers between smart home and connected entertainment products and services?
Context, we believe, is the missing puzzle piece for a unified smart home experience. There is a need for a centralized technology that can communicate with all smart home devices. This is where we believe WiFi and WiFi Sensing can fill the void by serving as the foundational technologies for the connected ecosystem. For many of their functions, as well as intercommunication, devices must already be connected to a WiFi network. Why not then use motion data, intelligence, and analytics to transform the home network and gain a better understanding of a consumer's needs? This full ecosystem mindset is especially important for the smart home's future. It is neither sustainable nor scalable to consider the smart home as a collection of individual devices, each of which only performs one or two smart home functions and is controlled by different applications or inputs.
How do consumers view technology now versus before the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed not only the way people use technology, but also the things they use it for. Things we thought had to be in person were abruptly shifted online or into the home environment, and many people now don't want to go back. The pandemic also increased our reliance on technology and, as a result, literacy. Remote learning and telecommuting trends show that device use has skyrocketed. This has resulted in increased comfort, but also a greater need for technology in the home. As people spent more and more time at home and readjusted their daily needs to the home environment, it created device and technology habits that have now become permanent.
Furthermore, the shift to remote solutions has altered people's perceptions of healthcare systems. COVID-19 saw an increase in telehealth and at-home solutions, signaling a shift from reactive to preventative healthcare. Users are much more conscious of their health and take an active role in it. This has translated into a greater willingness to experiment with new remote healthcare technologies such as at-home monitoring, wearables, and so on.
How has the rise of DIY security impacted the adoption of home security solutions?
The rise of do-it-yourself security has greatly expanded the market for cost-effective home security solutions. Consumers have realised that they can meet many of their security needs at home without relying on expensive and complex third-party call centres. Demand for home security solutions has also increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent trends toward remote learning or working. When you're expected to be gone for 8–10 hours a day, for example, a solution will look very different than when you're there almost constantly. Furthermore, the rise of DIY security has demonstrated that users are eager for highly customizable applications. The advantage of DIY is that users can customise them to their family's needs and environment. Home security options may serve the average environment well, but not always in the way you require. These dominant trends have prompted security companies to collaborate with DIY security providers to provide the best of both worlds in terms of functionality, cost efficiency, and customization. Interoperability is essential for simple combinations to be effective. The more devices that can communicate with one another, the better and more comprehensive the services they can provide.
As the number of connected devices in consumers’ lives increases each year, what solutions need to be created to allay rising consumer concerns around data security and privacy?
New solutions must be developed based on the core tenets of interoperability and centralization. The fewer passwords, points of access, configurations, and so on, the simpler the consumer experience. Concerns about security and privacy can also be alleviated when you know your devices are communicating effectively and securely based on well-defined standards. Instead of spreading efforts across multiple devices, centralization makes it easier to manage and secure. To provide such solutions, businesses must be more aware of the central customer experience. While a plethora of different connected devices may represent more potential revenue streams, it can leave customers unhappy and frustrated, and eventually, lead them to seek out other solutions that alleviate their pain points. For businesses, this means putting a lot of faith in the value of a centralized CX. Furthermore, there is no one-stop solution to these problems; rather, a multi-pronged approach is required. Security and privacy concerns are unlikely to be fully resolved, but as technology evolves, so will our security systems. Security must be built into the development and application of technology. A focus on security and privacy can be aided by the development of standards aimed at the creation of coherent structures and procedures to ensure that consumers have confidence that they are in the right hands. To enhance a customer's experience, it is also necessary to educate them on how their devices work or communicate, as well as provide transparency about how their data is used. The unknown can be the most damaging to perceived value.
As companies continue to improve upon ways to serve consumers at home, what are the top challenges are they facing? What changes will stay for the long term versus short term?
We've all heard the expressions "the customer is king" or "the customer is always right." But in the tech world, we don't always consider that. Putting the customer first will be one of the most difficult challenges for businesses looking to improve how they serve their customers at home. Their focus should be on providing a simple and seamless customer experience with as few devices, logins, or apps as possible. Just as consumers complain about the overwhelming number of different streaming services, broadband customers will want a more centralized approach to their services. Interoperability, or a more streamlined ecosystem on a larger scale, can be achieved by efficiently managing the number of devices and the functions they provide. You don't want a million devices that all do the same thing when a fraction of those devices can do multiple things. It is critical to establish, maintain, and build a foundation of trust with customers, which is facilitated by more frequent positive touchpoints. Proactive customer service will significantly improve the customer experience and extend the customer life cycle. The further into the future you look, the smarter products and services will need to be to respond intelligently to customers.
Focusing on software solutions that can be deployed to customers quickly, behind the scenes, and without requiring hardware changes is an easy way to facilitate new services. With a greater emphasis on usability, we will see a shift toward hands-free solutions. These services will be naturally supported by AI-powered technology that can learn patterns and behaviors so that systems feel almost automatic without the need for manual data input. Companies must think on a larger scale, carefully balancing sustainability (i.e., longevity) versus scalability (i.e., mass adoption). Technology is frequently compared to a small seed that must be watered on a regular basis to grow into a tree. If you are frustrated with the limitations of a sprout, you will never be able to see the canopy's heights. Investing in or creating products that can be built and improved on is one solution to short-term thinking. The device life cycle is being reimagined as technology grows exponentially.
What are SMB’s top unmet technology and service needs as they evolve business operations to serve customers in new ways?
The needs of small and medium-sized businesses and the consumer market naturally overlap. They both want services and products they can rely on, placing a higher value on solutions that are secure, robust, and remedy inefficiencies.
Can you comment on subscription-based services and the future of connectivity for consumers?
The entertainment industry is a great example of how subscription-based services have flourished. We believe that services in other industries, such as broadband or smart homes, will be similar to those provided by behemoths such as Amazon or Netflix. That means a wide range of software-based solutions from which customers can easily select and bundle into a multi-tier package. To retain customers in a cost-competitive, low-loyalty market, service providers will need to provide a diverse range of customizable solutions. The customization is based on a core desire, similar to cable demands, to tightly control the service you receive so that you only pay for what you need and not all of the extra features. Companies, on the other hand, must be careful not to overwhelm customers with options, allowing core functions to easily tailor down all offerings to a manageable level. Netflix's "Recommended Watching" feature is a good example of this. Because quantity does not always imply quality, businesses will have to strike a delicate balance.
What is your company’s vision for the consumer at home in 2025? 2030?
We believe that the smart home is the home of the future. WiFi Sensing will be at the heart of this ideal connected ecosystem, allowing networks to be used in previously unseen ways. WiFi Sensing, we believe, will be in every home, providing critical motion insights to enable applications such as home monitoring, eldercare, smart home, and more. WiFi Sensing is the foundational technology that uses motion intelligence to provide the context devices need to be truly smart.
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