The implementation of Smart Home concept presents extraordinary challenges for hardware and mobile technologies. The system of home automation that simply works normally should incorporate a broad range of performing devices (standardized under uniform requirements), high standards of data protection, and low costs associated with power consumption.
Combining all this together into a system with a wide range of settings it still too difficult. The IoT market faces the common dilemma – the range of solutions is enormous, each manufacturer tries to invent something “special” instead of developing a shared ecosystem.
The variety of protocols for communication and interaction slows the development of IoT market. But, some technologies slowly win the leading positions. Many independent experts mark that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth standards as the most perspective.
To date, the most common protocols are:
- Bluetooth Low Energy
- Wireless RF
Each of the protocols resolves certain problems in the field of home automation, has different levels of protection, provides different data transmission speed, and meets various energy consumption standards. Meanwhile, the problem of power consumption is a critical issue, especially for battery-powered devices like smoke or motion sensors.
The cost of Wi-Fi chip starts from $1. Wi-Fi data transfer protocol is one of the most popular and well-known at the moment. It provides broad equipment interoperability and affordable chip pricing but has a high level of energy consumption. Devices that use Wi-Fi for communication need frequent replacement of the power source, which is costly and inconvenient.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is featured by high speed and reliability, but at the moment its functionality is limited to very short distances – up to 10 meters.
Devices running on ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wireless RF protocols do not have direct Internet access. You need an additional appliance, an Internet-connected hub, to manage them.
ZigBee and Z-Wave are featured by low power consumption. Devices connected in this way also have a “sleep” mode, which additionally contributes to the reduction of power consumption. However, these protocols also have some significant drawbacks. Z-Wave, despite standardization at the protocol level, has different frequencies in different countries. The chip costs about $7, which is too much for an appliance which rapidly becomes obsolete. You’ll have to spend extra budget to implement the simplest encryption since the Z-Wave chip’s power is not enough.
Zigbee chips are cheaper than Z-Wave (about $3). However, due to the lack of standardization, there is a huge number of options for implementing protocols using this technology. Therefore, ZigBee devices from different manufacturers are almost always incompatible with each other. ZigBee is slower than Wi-Fi, and Z-Wave is too expensive when you need to connect more than 30 devices.
Wireless RF costs $0.01 per appliance and has extremely low energy consumption and a range of action up to 100 meters. However, the range and strength of the radio signal are highly dependent on the presence of obstacles. This technology significantly loses to competitors in terms of data transmission speed and security. Another disadvantage is the lack of standardization.
LoRa and NB-IOT technologies enable transfer of small amounts of data over long distances and have a low level of energy consumption. Their main disadvantage is a need for a network similar to cellular, which means enormous investments in the infrastructure.
As we can see, the main issues of the protocols described above are high energy consumption and low speed of data transmission layered on top of security breaches. These protocols could not satisfy the demands of IoT concept, so the market needs something else.
Many independent experts expect a lot from Wi-Fi HaLow and Bluetooth 5.0.
Wi-Fi Alliance approved an entirely new type of wireless connection specifically for smart home devices – the standard for Wi-Fi 802.11ah connection named HaLow.
All the devices supporting IEEE 802.11ah technology will be marked as Wi-Fi HaLow. The applied frequency below one gigahertz has important advantages. Wi-Fi Certified devices using new frequency will spend less energy when connected over significant distances.
Expanding Wi-Fi to the 900 MHz band, Wi-Fi HaLow provides a reliable connection in the presence of obstacles. The range of Wi-Fi HaLow is almost double the current Wi-Fi options. Such network will create favorable conditions for wearables and sensors.
Wi-Fi HaLow devices have two key benefits:
- IP connection support that enables access to the cloud;
- The ability to connect thousands of devices to a single access point.
It is also expected that most devices supporting Wi-Fi HaLow will operate in the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. This will allow them to integrate successfully into the existing Wi-Fi ecosystem, which contains more than 6.8 billion devices.
The latest version of the Bluetooth 5 standard offers increased communication range, higher data transfer speed, enhanced broadcast capabilities, and improved compatibility with other wireless technologies. In comparison with Bluetooth 4.2, the range of operation increased fourfold, the speed doubled (from 1 Mbit/s to 2 Mbit/s), capacity increased eight times. Not everything is perfect – achieving a fourfold increase in the maximum communication range at the same level of energy consumption is possible only at the cost of capacity reduction. Bluetooth 5 specifications provide high flexibility, allowing designers to create the best products in their categories.
With support for transmitting 255 octets of data, Bluetooth 5 allows transferring larger data packets than its predecessor Bluetooth 4.2, supporting the transmission of 31 octets. This means more efficient use of the 2.4 GHz frequency band, as well as a higher speed of transactions.
Manufacturers of mobile devices will be able to use the Slot Availability Mask (SAM) function to prevent any kind of interference in adjacent radio frequency bands.
Of course, Bluetooth 5 is compatible with earlier versions. To be more precise, up to Bluetooth 4.0 LE for devices with ultra-low power consumption and up to the version of Bluetooth 1.1 in all other cases.
In general, all these improvements and benefits should make Bluetooth 5 much more attractive for the Internet of Things industry. At least, the developers hope so. Support for cellular topology will allow devices with Bluetooth 5 to connect to each other, forming networks that cover not a single room, but the whole house or even a city building. To a large extent, Bluetooth 5 is expected to benefit from various indoor positioning technologies like Apple iBeacon and Samsung Proximity, based on special wireless “beacons”.