Though one of the most discussed topics of recent years, the jury is still out on how smart the world we live in really is. With new devices and applications launching on a daily basis the assumption could be that our homes and workplaces are now pretty much operating themselves – but how close to reality is that?
Many of the buildings in which we live, work and play are indeed already showing signs of becoming smarter. No longer a distant concept, so-called ‘smart buildings’ are cropping up more and more on our high streets, industrial estates, residential roads and in our business districts. Uptake remains limited to early adopters however, and further infrastructure is still required before we can call this anything like a full blown roll-out, says Sean Weir, commercial director, Smart Metering and M2M, Arqiva
This was further demonstrated by our recent research into consumer awareness of smart technology. The study found a lack of awareness from consumers around smart initiatives in UK cities, with almost half of citizens (48%) feeling that smart cities across the UK are still more than five years away, and 96% of Brits were unaware of any smart initiatives in their local area. The research also revealed confusion around the benefits of such technology, with 23% unclear on any one main benefit – so there is clearly a need for education as well.
The key to ensuring smart buildings move from a niche concept to a widespread reality is convincing the consumer of their value – a value which is unlocked by being able to connect all the applications and devices together, to provide information that translates into better decisions and services. The challenge to achieving this on any sort of scale is the sheer number of “things” to connect.
Views vary from expert to expert, but most agree that there will be a massive increase in the number of connected “things” or devices flooding the market over the coming years. Gartner predicts there will be around 25 billion connected devices in existence by 2020, while Cisco puts the figure at closer to 50 billion. Whatever the exact number, all of these ‘things’ – whether they’re smoke alarms, toasters or doors – will be constantly generating data about how they’re used, where they are and the state of the nearby environment. However, all this data will be considered next to useless if people are unable to translate and action it.
We are seeing progress on this front in small pockets of our homes and workplaces. Whilst talk of the Internet of Things in a residential context usually focuses on intelligent fridges and smart TVs, more interesting developments are actually happening in the slightly less “flashy” areas, such as safety and security, as service providers and equipment manufacturers begin to embrace connectivity. Insurance companies in some parts of Europe, for example, have started relying on sensors to monitor policyholders’ smoke alarms to check if batteries need to be replaced (a real issue given that many fires happen in homes with smoke alarms that aren’t working). Not only does this make it easier to minimise the risk of damage, it also gives the consumer added peace of mind and potentially lowers their insurance costs.
We believe in the next 12 to 18 months we’ll also see an increased roll-out of in-home care devices that enable people to provide information on chronic health conditions, like high-blood pressure, direct to their GP but from the comfort of their own homes. The benefits of such devices are clear for consumers to see – for example enabling elderly people to maintain their independent living at home for far longer than they can today.
The good news for the roll-out process of such devices is that the technologies available to connect them together are getting better and better. Previously the use cases for connected devices were limited by the cost and energy consumption related to connectivity but with initiatives like our partnership with SIGFOX – which sees us rolling out a national Internet of Things network to enable the low-cost and low-power connection of millions of devices, this is rapidly changing. With infrastructure such as this in place, use cases have the potential to rocket up – bringing smart technology much closer to home.
The author of this blog is Sean Weir, commercial director, Smart Metering and M2M, Arqiva