Like a Good Neighbor, Home Controls Market Is There
Did you know that the security industry has a good neighbor by the name of home controls/automation. This neighbor is so close all the security dealer has to do in look over the backyard fence. This neighbor has the capability of bringing in new customers, and can help generate more revenue and, yes, even more recurring monthly revenue (RMR).
Recently, I had the chance to look over my backyard fence and visit a home controls trade show. As always, I found it interesting to catch up on how a variety of home/building technologies and markets are progressing, and to bring back what might be of value to you, our loyal “Tech Talk” reader.
If you have been sitting on your fence, this is certainly the year to start expanding your business into home automation technologies. Some predict the “custom electronics integration channel” will grow as much as 75 percent during 2007-2012, from $9.8 billion to $17.4 billion.
Home automation vendors realize how important security professionals are to achieving that robust growth. After all, security dealers/integrators are technology savvy and already have a customer base that recognizes them as technology experts due to the high-tech security services they already provide.
ABCs of ‘Z’ Wireless Technologies
Looking over my fence, I am greeted by neighbors Zigbee® and Z-Wave — two popular wireless technologies that have been busy positioning themselves in the automation market trying to prove which technology is more valuable than the other. Often confused, what is the difference between these technologies?
ZigBee is a versatile, ultra-low power, short-distance (10-75 meters) wireless mesh technology that typically operates in the unlicensed 2.4GHz ISM band with 250kbps data rate. It is supported by the ZigBee Alliance (www.zigbee.org), which includes key members Ember, Freescale, Honeywell, Philips, Samsung and Texas Instruments. This technology gained early popularity with more than 300 companies in 28 countries. It is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. Keep any eye out for the newer variation called ZigBee Pro.
Z-Wave is another type of popular low-power, wireless, mesh-networked remote monitoring and control technology. It is more proprietary in nature than ZigBee and the developer is a company called Zensys. Products have an average range of 30 meters. The operating frequency is the unlicensed 900MHz spectrum with a 40kbps data rate. It has very active industry support from the Z-Wave Alliance (www.z-wavealliance.org). Key supporting members include Intel, Logitech, Cisco and Intermatic.
While having some operational similarities, you will notice these wireless methods are technically different. They will not work with each other. At the expo I attended I was impressed with the large presence of the Z-Wave alliance and its member products being demonstrated. This showed a major commitment by this technology to home automation.
One of the past complaints about Z-Wave was its proprietary nature. Recently however, it has been reported that Zensys, the original developer, is offering development kits. In the battle between these technologies, Z-Wave has recently made claims that some European tests showed ZigBee technology is more susceptible to interference problems since it typically operates in the popular 2.4GHz WiFi WLAN range. Z-Wave operates in the lower, high penetrating 900MHz range.
Zigbee, while being an older technology, appears to have more emphasis in the commercial automation area. This could possibly be due to the greater frequency options and slightly higher data rates. While reviewing some of the Z-Wave vendors, it became apparent that security dealers could offer some attractive add-on packages to their existing security customers with very little time needed for installation. Technology-savvy customers will expect and buy these products.
Struck by Lighting
Another organization relevant to this market is the Home Lighting Control Alliance (www.homelighting.org). The theme of homeowners being “green” is a big hit in these days of high energy costs.
One of the key issues being presented by the alliance is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which will virtually eliminate common 40-100W incandescent bulbs by 2012. While the big push will be for compact florescent lights (CFLs), those having worked with lighting controls have found dimming is not an option with CFLs. However, the alliance is quick to point out that energy-saving halogen bulbs made by manufacturers such as Phillips do qualify as energy-saving bulbs and will work with dimming controls.
4 Vendors Bring It on Home
Another big technology push taking place is whole-house media integration via IP networked connectivity. In fact, companies such as FUZE Media Systems have put together entry-level whole-home media packages for authorized dealers. The company has expanded from its base of the “On-Command” hotel systems market.
The firm is also setting up some nice RMR packages for dealers to offer their customers. With the complexity increasing in these complete integrated media packages, the folks at FUZE realized that customers would be willing to pay a monthly fee for remote technical support for these systems. This is a nice way for security dealers to add sales and build up their RMR stream.
With the rapid expansion of residential security and automation going to IP network connectivity, there is also a great push for vendors to find commonality in this automation connectivity. One such company called Global Cachè claims to have a large pool of vendor partners that can interface with its GC-100 family of network Adapters.
The devices look almost like specially configured network switches with connectors for LAN and RS232 serial ports, relay and IR control, and other sensor inputs. The idea is to allow many independent types of automation to control one family of devices, thereby enabling the quick deployment of automation control on a home network.
Another nice little find at the show was a new wireless security manufacturer. Before even looking at its product, what caught my attention was the company’s Minnesota-based address. What other large, established wireless security company do you know from Minnesota? If you said ITI, you are correct. The name of this company is Sequel Technologies and — what a coincidence — it is headed up by some of the former ITI gang.
What I have noticed about Sequel is it is immediately into IP connectivity and also offers fast panel upload/download over the IP connection. Oh yes, and its supervised security wireless receivers will accept certain GE and Honeywell transmitters. You might want to keep an eye on this outfit.
One more recommendation … the size and configuration of some of the complete home automation and media systems going in these days are huge. A company called BackBoxx™ has come out with a line of customer back boxes that will come in very handy, especially for new construction. You might want to take a look at www.backboxx.com.
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