Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Connected Homes June 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Broadband Mesh Services

Why is this topic significant?

As mesh technology becomes increasingly common within buildings, ongoing efforts seek to develop meshes that can deliver broadband services in place of cable, DSL, and fiber access networks.

Description

During the 14 months from December 2015 to January 2017, Facebook received four patents that describe cloud-based management and monitoring of wide-area mesh networks, with algorithms that pick routes for millimeter-wave beams to deliver broadband service. The sole inventor was Sanjai Kohli, who is credited with dozens of patents for wireless technologies; he made pioneering technical and business-development contributions to the commercialization of GPS. Facebook's mesh-networking developments support the company's efforts toward improving connectivity in rural areas and least-developed regions.

The largest mesh-capable network for broadband access may be guifi.net, a not-for-profit peer-to-peer network that includes more than 30,000 active Wi-Fi nodes, mostly in eastern Spain. Other community-organized mesh networks operate on a smaller scale in Germany, Italy, Slovenia, and various urban centers of the United States. Users in rural Newport, Vermont, are slated to start up a mesh network during 2017, with service costing a suggested $15 per month on a sliding-scale basis.

Implications

Mesh networks can extend the range of wireless devices (each meshed device serves as a relay) and can enable multiple wireless routes to connect any two devices (if enough devices reside within an area). If an intervening device fails, another wireless path may be available; this is why people sometimes refer to mesh networks as self-healing. But until adoption grows, node density will tend to remain insufficient to ensure self-healing. And node density may always remain low in more far-flung service areas.

In some instances, mesh networks can manage themselves with little or no human intervention. Such automation can incorporate new nodes as adoption grows, route around nodes lost to equipment trouble, and serve users who move devices in and out of wireless range. As a result, some refer to mesh networks as self-forming or as needing zero configuration.

Meshes have potential to bring broadband service to rural areas that now have no or inadequate service. But in many cases, needs for clear lines of sight—or, alternatively, needs for configurations of buildings that reliably allow signals to ricochet to their destinations—have hampered use of meshes. Stakeholders do not seem able or willing to systematically discover sets of suitable wireless routes that reach all of the households in an area that could benefit from mesh technology. As a result, meshes for broadband service delivery have become largely the domains of tinkerers, idealists, and people who lack any other options for broadband connectivity.

Impacts/Disruptions

Mesh networking could become more common in concert with development of fixed-wireless infrastructure. In the United States, AT&T, Verizon, and broadband-service start-up Starry are experimenting with fixed-wireless services in urban areas; they are at risk of running into problems in areas where buildings interfere with signal propagation. In other words, fixed-wireless technologies may be fine for last-mile connectivity but not necessarily for the last 100 meters of a signal's route to a connected home. Meshes might help route around obstructions from buildings or natural features. Drones might aid in initial route discovery and site selection for mesh nodes. And the companies now trialing fixed-wireless services might find leverage by using mesh technologies that are under development for various other purposes—including for police radios, car-to-car communications, and industrial machine-to-machine communications.

Scale of Impact

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

Time of Impact

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Electronics manufacturing, broadband services, not-for-profit organizations

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Connected Door Locks

Why is this topic significant?

Smart motorized door locks are fairly common in commercial settings and are evolving to become useful to renters and homeowners.

Description

During March 2017, real-estate developer Brookfield announced it is installing smart door locks as standard equipment in new housing units in Irvine, California. The Schlage deadbolts unlock several ways: traditional key, number-pad entry, or Apple's Siri. Other real-estate developers have offered optional home-automation packages that include the same Schlage model. The locks are compatible with iPhones and other Apple products but incompatible with Android smartphones.

During May 2017, the attorney general of the state of New York announced a settlement with a maker of smart padlocks, SafeTech Products. The manufacturer will not pay a penalty but has instead agreed to redesign its locks to address cybersecurity concerns. The padlocks rely on a smartphone app that uses Bluetooth to transmit unlocking codes with no encryption. During 2016, security researchers defeated at least seven brands of Bluetooth padlocks and door locks, including those of SafeTech Products.

QY Research recently estimated that manufacturers worldwide produced about 9 million smart door locks in 2016, accounting for about $1.8 billion in revenue. The market leader, Assa Abloy, specializes in large installations such as commercial buildings, hotels, and apartment buildings. Homeowners and renters likely account for a small minority of the market.

Consumer-grade connected door locks rely on a battery to spin a motor that moves a lock cylinder. One of the leading brands, August, advises that "battery life should be around 6–9 months," or less if a bolt is "sticky."

Implications

Smartphone-controlled locks enable users to conveniently permit or deny entry to guests, caregivers, plumbers, and so on. The locks also provide a backup solution in case a household member absentmindedly misplaces a key or access card or forgets a passcode. The responsible smartphone user can unlock many of the available products from a distance over a cloud connection. The locks may have special appeal to people who serve as hosts for short-term rentals, as in the case of AirBnB hosts. Smartphone apps enable the host to assign access privileges that expire, and to foil dishonest guests who seek to make unauthorized copies of keys.

However, the consumer market for connected door locks is immature, unlike the markets for commercial, industrial, multidwelling-unit, and hospitality. Software and hardware incompatibilities, doubts about cybersecurity, and iffy battery performance are among the issues that create struggles for some users and discourage adoption by others.

Impacts/Disruptions

Manufacturers might see improved prospects if a simple installation process were to allow key fobs to open doors in the same way that car keys open vehicles nowadays.

Many carmakers also offer hands-free key fobs that stay in a pocket and trigger unlocking when in proximity to a car. Pent-up demand for solutions will likely persist until residents can simply walk through front doors that seem to unlock magically. The quest for convenience could also favor smart locks that rely on fingerprints, iris recognition, face recognition, or other biometric factors.

Cost-reduced yet secure solutions for hosts of short-term rentals might not emerge until after hosts and manufacturers experiment with diverse solutions. Hosts who are early adopters of technology could see disruptions as thieves and vandals discover vulnerabilities at a rate that outpaces that of security researchers.

Scale of Impact

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

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:

Electronics manufacturing, software development, real-estate development, managed services

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: