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Connected Homes August 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

The Technology Road Map for Wireless LANs

Why is this topic significant?

Developers are working toward new versions of IEEE 802.11 standards, promising to enable new capabilities for Wi-Fi.

Description

During 2016, vendors began shipping Wi-Fi–certified equipment that supports data rates in excess of 2 Gbit/s. Also, a new wireless router from TP Link is not Wi-Fi certified but supports data rates in excess of 6 Gbit/s and is advertised to comply with the IEEE 802.11ad standard. The new equipment is mainly for enterprises and crowded public places, but it can also provide benefits in households that want to deploy multiroom video systems. Multiple users can concurrently stream low-loss high-definition and ultra-high-definition video from home servers, gaming PCs, baby cameras, and cloud services. Users can route images to any big or small screen in or near the home. The Wi-Fi Alliance could also eventually promote technologies now under development by IEEE Task Group 802.11ay, which promises to support extremely high data rates. One proposed use case involves a 28 Gbit/s wireless channel to deliver lossless 8K video to UHDTV screens (which contain more than 32 megapixels).

The IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee publishes an agenda that contains additional goals for standardization, not just increases in data rates. Several groups within IEEE are developing and studying a suite of compatible technologies for ultra-low-power Internet-of-Things devices. A key effort is underway within the IEEE's Task Group 802.11az, which is developing the next generation of wireless-LAN positioning technologies. In proposed use cases, devices report their locations to within 50 cm, enabling multiroom follow-me audio and lost-object finders. And Task Group 802.11ai seeks to reduce the time required to establish connections from "several seconds...to less than 100 ms in certain circumstances." One goal is to improve handover among cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

Implications

Very few households have broadband services with gigabit-class data rates. Rates of progress in wireless LAN technologies far exceed rates of progress in broadband infrastructure deployments. As a result, many of the use cases that IEEE members propose are not for homes. For example, most proposed applications for 802.11ay are for crowded places, such as transit hubs and meeting halls, that now experience data-traffic congestion. Even so, nonresidential applications might inspire enough demand to lead to economies of scale and price decreases sufficient to eventually make the technology affordable in connected homes. Another example: Task Group 802.11aq is developing a resource-discovery protocol that it intends for use in public hot spots, but the protocol might have the potential to solve certain integration problems that home users now face.

Impacts/Disruptions

Some advanced 802.11 technologies may seem to be redundant with existing wireless technologies such as Internet-of-Things protocols (ZigBee and Z-Wave), wireless video links (WiHD and WHDI), and portable gadgetry (Bluetooth and Ant). IEEE standards under development focus on "Maintaining the 802.11 User Experience." Many people are familiar with how to use Wi-Fi; they simply "set it and forget it." If users perceive that Wi-Fi maintains a usability advantage over alternative wireless technologies, then future versions of Wi-Fi could reduce the need for competing standards, protocols, and application-specific solutions. And a preference for what is technologically familiar may favor evolved versions of Wi-Fi even if competing technologies outperform IEEE 802.11 standards in various ways.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Broadband services, Internet of Things, electronics manufacturing, appliance manufacturing, displays, loudspeakers, sensors, actuators

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Connected Energy-Intensive Appliances

By David Strachan-Olson
Strachan-Olson is a research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Smart thermostats have helped households save money by reducing the energy consumption of central heating-and-cooling systems. Similar smart functionality added to other energy-intensive appliances (window air conditioners, water heaters, dehumidifiers, and space heaters) could lead to wider adoption of smart systems and decreased energy use.

Description

Many households cannot benefit from smart thermostats because they do not have central heating-and-cooling systems, instead relying on in-room units, portable units, window units, or split systems. But that situation will soon change. Multiple OEMs—including Frigidaire, Kenmore, and GE—are now offering in-room climate-control systems with Wi-Fi connections built in. The inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi allows home users to use mobile applications to control their climate devices, or to integrate their climate-control devices with home-automation solutions, or both. Households with existing climate-control devices that have infrared remote control functionality are also gaining the ability to integrate such devices with Wi-Fi-based control networks, thanks to special-purpose Wi-Fi-to-infrared bridge devices from companies like Tado and Sensibo.

Companies are also adding smart features and connectivity to water heaters because of their substantial energy requirements. Aquanta has released a controller that retrofits to most gas or electric water heaters to give them smart and connected features. Some OEMs—including Whirlpool, Kenmore, and Rheem—are selling water heaters with expansion ports, which allow households to easily install wireless modules any time after the initial purchase.

Most systems have web and mobile applications that can utilize energy-saving features including vacation mode, geofencing, and self-learning. Geofencing tracks users' locations through their mobile devices and automatically turns off or adjusts settings as appropriate. Learning appliances can recognize use patterns and adjust their functionality to help save energy while maintaining a good user experience. For example, a learning water heater could recognize that showers only occur in the morning and decide to minimize heating during the rest of the day.

Implications

OEMs and third-party companies are applying concepts and technology from smart thermostats to other energy-intensive appliances in an attempt to duplicate their commercial success. Because many individuals do not have central heating-and-cooling systems, a potentially large demand exists for smart energy-saving features in alternative climate-control systems. Individuals who live in apartments or condominiums likely have in-room or window units. Households that want to add climate-control systems to older houses will likely choose split systems or window units instead of centralized systems. In addition, an increased frequency of extreme weather events caused by climate change could lead more people to add climate-control systems to their residences.

Impacts/Disruptions

Many households do not find the features of many connected appliances compelling enough to warrant the extra cost. Smart energy-intensive appliances are much more appealing because they can save households money over the lifetime of the system. Climate-control systems and water heaters are responsible for a large portion of domestic energy use, so households, governments, and utilities have incentives to increase the efficiency of such appliances.

Connectivity and software applications give households the tools to directly monitor and control the energy use of their appliances. Once users can easily see how much energy their appliances are using, they might proactively alter their appliance usage for monetary or environmental reasons. In the future, households could save additional money by participating in demand-response programs (see "New Approaches to Electricity-Demand Response" in the April 2016 Viewpoints).

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Smart appliances, home automation, demand response, smart grids

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: