What does the future of the smart home look like?

19th April 2021
Lanna Deamer

Dialog Semiconductor is a provider of standard and custom Integrated Circuits (ICs) that power the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT applications. Dialog help to propel the next generation of today’s devices by providing Battery Management, Bluetooth low energy, WiFi, Flash memory, and Configurable Mixed-signal ICs, improving power efficiency, reducing charge times, while increasing performance and productivity on the go.

Here, Electronic Specifier speaks with Omer Cheema, Head of the IoT Business Unit at Dialog Semiconductor about the future of the smart home.

The smart home

Dialog recognise that the smart home is becoming a reality. We can now monitor and control everything from lighting and home security to heating, ventilation and air conditioning all from our smartphones and tablets - even remotely via the cloud.

Dialog has developed a number of devices, solutions and technologies that will enable the future of smart home. For example, the DA1469x is a product family of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions that feature low-power consumption and system costs, which are essential for making smart home Bluetooth devices viable for mainstream production.

Last year the company also introduced the DA16200, a highly integrated, ultra-low-power WiFi networking SoC, and two modules that leverage Dialog’s VirtualZero technology to deliver a breakthrough in battery life for WiFi connected, battery-powered IoT devices. This SoC is designed for IoT products including connected door locks, thermostats and security video cameras, that require ‘always on’ connectivity with a continuous WiFi connection.

“The DA1469x and DA16200 are just a couple of our devices optimised for smart home applications, but we are always innovating and look forward to expanding our portfolio of smart home technologies as we work toward building a more connected future.” said Cheema.

One of the newer additions to Dialog’s smart home portfolio is the DA16200. According to the company it is the world’s first WiFi SoC, delivering a year plus battery life for always connected WiFi IoT devices such as smart security cameras and thermostats. The DA16200 is based on Dialog’s patented VirtualZero Technology and has been designed from scratch keeping low power in mind.

This technology enables such a low level of power consumption that even continuously connected devices can typically achieve at least a year of battery life, with three to five years being common.

The SoC utilises an algorithm-driven design to provide the lowest power solution for facilitating an extended battery life, while also maintaining a continuous WiFi connection to ensure that end users always maintain control of their devices.

To achieve extended range without compromising battery life, the DA16200 also features an integrated Power Amplifier (PA) and Low-Noise Amplifier (LNA), offering output power and receiver sensitivity.

Using WiFi to simplify the smart home development

The biggest problem with today’s smart home is that it is made up of a mix of IoT protocols. WiFi and Ethernet are used for high bandwidth applications. Zigbee and Z-wave are used for low power devices. There are multiple versions of Zigbee that are not compatible with each other. Meanwhile Z-wave is a proprietary protocol that locks users and device makers to one supplier.

Building a smart home using these protocols requires an expensive hub that enables inter-device communication. And occasionally high-profile hub manufacturers have encountered financial difficulties, leaving end users high and dry. These protocols are simply too complicated for the average consumer who is just looking for low cost, plug and play setup of their smart homes.

“With the DA16200, Dialog is simplifying WiFi for smart home development. This SoC provides the low power benefits of Zigbee and Z-wave while keeping the simplicity, compatibility, and ubiquity of the WiFi standard.

“We are even offering easy to use development tools and modules to ensure shorter time to market for developers. For example, widely used FreeRToS and gcc-based WiFi development kits enable developers to quickly prototype IoT designs using DA16200. This kit combines a WiFi module with a USB interface, keys and connectors to speed development and debugging of DA16200-based designs.” explained Cheema.

“Dialog is working towards a smart, connected future, and so naturally the smart home is included in that vision,” explained Cheema. The company’s technology is designed for a wide range of applications, such as automotive, medical and industrial. Dialog believe that there is a lot of opportunity in smart home development, especially when it comes to technologies such as BLE and WiFi.

The release of the DA16200 delivered a breakthrough in battery life for WiFi connected, battery-powered IoT devices. Cheema said: “We believe that delivering WiFi on a battery isn’t just about achieving extended battery lifetime. It’s also about enabling IoT developers to unlock the full potential of smart devices by delivering low-power functionality in conjunction with always-on connectivity. With the DA16200’s VirtualZero technology, developers can create always-on IoT devices that achieve years of battery life while maintaining continuous WiFi connections. This was the breakthrough the IoT market needed, so we were thrilled to be able to deliver it.

The future of the smart home

As PC and mobile markets have matured, Cheema believes that IoT will be one of the main growth drivers for semiconductors in the next decade, and smart home is one of the fastest growing segments in IoT.

A smart home is a context-aware home. Imagine you are driving home from work. When you are ten minutes away from home, your car GPS detects your location and sends a signal to your smart watch, which communicates with the home thermostat about your body temperature, and your home air conditioners are turned on to adjust the temperature for maximising your comfort. Everything happens in the background as your home understands your needs and makes intelligent decisions accordingly. 

This kind of ‘smartness’ does not come from point devices e.g. speakers. This intelligence requires several end node devices to gather context data. Cheema believes this will be the year of explosive growth of end node devices. Dialog is already seeing the increased demand for smart door locks, doorbells, thermostats, and lighting. Cheema said he thinks that this trend will continue in 2021 and beyond.

Another trend Dialog are seeing in the smart home space is the implementation of BLE. Cheema explained: “One of the only reasons that the smart home concept is viable at all is because BLE offers a wireless communications standard that is low in cost and power. In fact, BLE has proven itself as the ideal option for both transmitting short bursts of data and as the standard for networking smart devices together. Moreover, BLE’s scalability ensures that as smart homes continue to become a reality, Bluetooth will be able to keep up.”

The onset of COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of the smart home. Due to the pandemic, people are spending most of their time at home. Trends such as working from home, education from home, shopping from home, and healthcare from home, are driving the consumer adoption of technologies such as remote monitoring, video conferencing, vital signs monitoring and more. While COVID-19 has significantly reduced consumer spending on travel and hospitality, the savings from unspent holiday money is going into home improvement projects, making homes smarter and more comfortable.

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