According to the latest findings from ABI Research, the total number of connected devices will hit 30 billion by 2020. While modern devices like smartphones, tablets, and wearables will continue to drive that growth, a large part will also come from traditional non-connected home appliances that are gaining internet connectivity. With much of the technology to create an intelligent living space now existing, here’s what to consider when planning out your smart home.

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According to the latest findings from ABI Research, the total number of connected devices will hit 30 billion by 2020. While modern devices like smartphones, tablets, and wearables will continue to drive that growth, a large part will also come from traditional non-connected home appliances that are gaining internet connectivity. With much of the technology to create an intelligent living space now existing, here’s what to consider when planning out your smart home.

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Is it just about controlling the lights?

Broadly speaking, a smart home provides its owners convenience, comfort, and security through the integration of technology and services. While the implementation details have changed a lot since the early 20th century when people first saw the possibilities of home appliances like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and toasters, the fundamental aim of a smart home for a better quality of life hasn’t. That said, although the idea of home automation has existed for decades, be it in literature or theater, building out actual smart homes only became feasible in the last 15 years. And it’s by no chance that its increasing popularity since the early 2000s coincided with the advances we’ve made in manufacturing, informatics, home networking, and of course, the internet. Today, home automation is still about being able to control and automate your devices and appliances. But with more platforms at our disposal and as more products gain network awareness, we’re no longer limited to lighting and simple appliance control. Having the air conditioner automatically adjust the temperature based on the weather, changing the TV channel or commanding music playback through voice, having the door unlock itself as you approach it - these are some smart home scenarios that most of us can enjoy today without much effort, scenarios that just 10 years ago were still science fiction. And while convenience remains a major lure (okay, the cool factor too), it’s not the sole benefit of smart homes. In the field of gerontechnology for example, home automation can greatly improve the lives of both senior citizens and their caregivers. With proper optimizations, smart homes can also lower your energy bills and help you do your part for the environment. So, are you ready for the Jetsons’ world?

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Do you have a smart home if you’ve a smart TV?

What type of hardware or functionality need to be in place before your humble abode can be called a smart home? Here are a few levels that home automation enthusiasts and integrators often talk about.

Homes with smart objects working independently

At the most basic level, you need standalone devices or appliances capable of doing smart things. Like a music player that can tune in to a radio station to wake you up in the morning. In more ways than one, your ceiling fan with its accompanying RF remote is a smart object, too.

Homes with similar smart objects talking to each other

A step further would be having a few such smart devices that can also ‘talk’ to each other; and as a result, bring added functionality and convenience. A typical example is wireless speakers that you can place around the house so you can stream music to them simultaneously.

Homes with different smart objects talking to one another

If you only have a smart TV in your living room, you’ve at best a smart living room, not a smart home. Connected homes have different classes of smart devices communicating with one another - like an oven that can tell your TV that the cake is ready and have it pop up a notification.

Homes with smart objects that learn

The most sophisticated smart homes are also learning homes, which means the system is able to analyze and react based on living patterns. For example, the TV starts to turn itself on at 8 PM because based on recorded data, that was what you’ve been doing manually for the past few evenings.

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Here are two wireless standards you’ve never heard of

Here’s the thing: To do smart things, devices need to be able to talk to one another over the air. In theory, Wi-Fi is the best protocol to use, because it’s ubiquitous and comes standard on nearly every smart device these days. But the inconvenient truth is that Wi-Fi is power hungry, making it ill-suited for low-power or battery-powered devices like motion sensors, smart door locks, or light switch modules. Bluetooth Low Energy is one alternative because it sips power, but it suffers from both signal range and network size issues. For home automation products, security systems, and HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) control, the current darling protocols are Z-Wave and ZigBee. Z-Wave has very low power requirements and its use of mesh networking topology minimizes range problems because signals from two far apart devices can still reach each other by hopping though devices between them. In Singapore, it operates at the 868.4MHz frequency. Zigbee also uses a mesh network. Low power, fast, robust, affordable, and best of all, using an open standard, Zigbee has the potential to be more popular than Z-Wave - though that’s not the vibe I get from enthusiasts. This primarily stems from Zigbee’s reputation of having interoperability issues. In a way, Z-Wave’s proprietary nature (it’s owned by Sigma Designs) turns out to be a good thing: because there’s primarily one source for Z-Wave chips, Z-Wave devices (in theory) should work seamlessly between brands and versions. That said, don’t just take my word for it. The correct way to select an ecosystem is to decide what smarts you want to add, and then see what devices are available on each standard.

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What the heck are Insteon, WeMo, HomeKit, and SmartThings then?

The agnostic nature of Z-Wave and ZigBee contribute to their popularity, but the fact remains there are other protocols out there. The confusion is made worse when tech companies joined the fray with their own initiatives and smart home gear.


An award-winning home automation technology, Insteon is fast, secure, and its products are fully backward and forward compatible. Using a dual-band mesh network system, it’s able to send control signals across existing power lines as well as through wireless communication. More importantly, its simulcast characteristic enables it to route signals around the network easily. As such, you can consider Insteon if you’re building a large network (easily over 1,000 links per device) or are looking to upgrade from an existing X10 powerlinebased setup. 


Belkin’s WeMo is actually not a wireless protocol. And it doesn’t need a controller or hub like Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Insteon do, because it rides on your existing Wi-Fi network. Device and remote control is easily done through a nicely-crafted app, and you can scale up on the cheap through IFTTT integration. There are currently over 25 WeMo products, including power and light switches, motion sensors, and IP cameras. Belkin also works with brands like CrockPot, Mr. Coff ee, and Nest to bring WeMo compatibility to more household appliances.


A home automation framework rather than a wireless standard, Apple’s HomeKit is currently supported by a handful of smart accessories, like Schlage’s smart locks, Ecobee’s thermostats, iDevices’ switches, and Philips’ Hue lighting kits. The main draw of HomeKit is to link up your smart devices and let you access them all through a single interface (like the new Home app in iOS 10) or via Siri voice control. Suffice to say, the success of HomeKit will depend on the number of manufacturers making HomeKit-compatible products.


An open platform, SmartThings (a startup snapped up by Samsung in 2014) aims to unite devices across multiple standards. The key to achieving that is the SmartThings Hub, which connects to the wireless router and works with communication protocols such as Z-Wave and ZigBee. From its own-branded motion and leak sensors and power plugs to Schlage deadbolts and Honeywell thermostats, the list of SmartThings-compatible products is also growing by the day. And of course, there’s a free app to run your home from your smartphone.

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Tip #1: Research, research, research

Convenience, security, energy savings, fun - these are the many rewards that come with a well-thoughtout smart home. But getting there isn’t easy. To avoid all the hair pulling and unnecessary waste of money, here’s some advice.

Always plan ahead

While starting small sounds like good advice, it can be the root of the problem when you decide to scale up down the road. When building a home automation system, it’s good to consider the ‘what ifs’ for devices that you don’t intend to control yet. Are you sure you just want to control the house’s lighting? What if you decide to control the air conditioning six months later? Is it then possible to integrate that to your existing system? If you’re enlisting the help of an installer, mapping out your ideal smart home is recommended even if you don’t have the intention or means to do so now.

Retrofitting vs. building from scratch

Unless you’re doing a major renovation, converting an existing home to a smart one can present many challenges, especially if you need to mess with things like wiring. In this case, consider retrofits, as they tend to be cheaper and easier to install than complete replacements. One example is Fibaro’s Z-Wave dimmer module (that supports a 2-wire config found in most Singapore homes), which you can retrofit into an existing light switch to enable you to wirelessly control the light. Ambi Climate, a gadget that learns about your habits and environment and auto adjusts your existing air conditioning to keep you comfortable all the time, is another.

Think smart controllers, not smart gadgets

Without a doubt, Wi-Fi is the best way for delivering ubiquitous connectivity, and it fuels the current rise of smart home gadgets and IoTs. But you may run into range problems if you want to deploy them house-wide, not to mention costs can escalate quickly. For example, if you only want to control a couple of lamps, it makes sense to give each of them a Wi-Fi-enabled LED bulb. But it becomes impractical and costly if you want to use smart bulbs for all your 30 lightings. In this case, the more sensible way to go about it is to keep the dumb bulbs, but invest in a Z-Wave controller and Z-Wave light switches instead.

Minimize the number of brands and standards

While there’s no shortage of smart home devices these days, there’s still a big barrier preventing massmarket smart home adoption - and that’s the technological fragmentation within the connected home ecosystem. Think about it: if you’ve added six smart gadgets from six different brands to your home recently, chances are, you’re controlling them through six separate web UIs or mobile apps. Apple’s HomeKit aims to bring a consistent experience for disparate devices, and Samsung’s SmartThings Hub and Vera Control’s VeraPlus are examples of controllers attempting to play nice with the myriad of protocols out there. Last but not least: never buy anything on impulse, especially if you aren’t certain if it’ll work here. It’s a waste of money if you buy a smart home gadget and then later discover that it doesn’t conform to local standards. An example is buying from overseas a Z-Wave product that uses a frequency not supported back home.

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“Alexa, activate party mode.”

On the other side of the coin, fragmentation within the smart home ecosystem is perhaps a necessary evil for it to cross the chasm of the adoption curve. The way I see it, the current smart home scene is plagued with two types of fragmentation: device/protocol fragmentation and user interaction fragmentation. What do I mean? As mentioned earlier, Z-Wave is arguably the leading home automation networking technology today. But what if you want to add a ZigBee or Wi-Fi-based device because there’s no Z-Wave equivalent? This is why I applaud SmartThings’ and Vera’s all-inclusive hub efforts. Controlling a smart home made up of devices from different brands works fine on a phone or tablet interface, until you’ve to switch between apps one time too many. A singular app interface like Apple’s new Home app in iOS 10 is perhaps a natural progression, but I’d argue that voice control over Siri is the killer feature. This is why Amazon’s Echo devices, with their voice-controlled Alexa AI, have found favor with many home automation enthusiasts. Sure, Alexa can tell you the latest weather and sports scores, but so can many other digital voice assistants. What makes Alexa great in a smart home is the fact that it can link to and control other devices. For example, link Philips’ Hue light bulbs to it and you can control your lights with your voice. But like the hub that your devices connect to, don’t expect Alexa or Siri or Google Home to work with everything. Insufficient integration with consumer devices aside, voice recognition quality in the real world still have some ways to go, too. But as more CE and IT companies enter this space, I’ve hopes that voice control will become the linchpin of every smart home very soon.