No networked home without standards

Homes get their act together

By Morand Fachot

The home environment becomes increasingly networked and integrated: appliances get smarter and communicate better with entertainment devices, lighting, heating, cooling and alarm systems as well as with the grid and utilities. Their operations and settings can also be controlled, even remotely, by users or operators. This integration is made possible because of standardization work by the IEC, in collaboration with its sister organizations, ISO (International Organization for Standardization and ITU (International Telecommunication Union). This joint work will make the future home more energy-efficient and comfortable.

Portable smart meter (Photo: Centrica) Portable smart meter (Photo: Centrica)

Around the corner

The networked home – in evidence at the US CES (Consumer Electronic Show) since the late 1980s – may finally be around the corner. While it's not quite there yet, it is expected to become much more commonplace in coming years. ABI Research, a technology market intelligence company, sees the global market for HAS (home automation systems) reaching close to 20 million installed units in 2017, up from just over 1,5 million shipped in 2011.

This growth will occur as home appliance manufacturers and utilities, seeking to boost their revenues, actively plan the networking of home appliances and electronic devices. This will provide occupants with greater control over these appliances as well as over household energy usage.

The networking of these disparate systems will mean that cheaper-rate power is available to consumers at times of lower demand. It will also pave the way for the widespread introduction of the smart grid that is able to manage future energy consumption more effectively.

The core of the networked home

Networking homes and all these appliances and systems requires the preparation and adoption of International Standards in the electrotechnology, ICT (information and communication technology) and telecommunication domains. The IEC and ISO collaborate within ISO/IEC JTC (Joint Technical Committee) 1: Information technology, and ITU-T (ITU Telecommunication standardization sector) in order to achieve this.

Many countries are now adopting these standards or developing their own standards, some of which are accepted as International Standards by the IEC, such as Echonet from Japan, or a similar solution developed by China's IGRS (Intelligent Grouping and Resource Sharing working group).

Cables and wireless

ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC (Subcommittee) 25: Interconnection of information technology equipment, is central to the whole networked home environment. It prepares standards for cables and many other systems and components. It has published ISO/IEC 15018Information technology – Generic cabling for homes, which specifies a generic cabling for ICT, BCT (Broadcast and Communications Technologies) and CCCB (Commands, Controls and Communications in Buildings).

Home networks use various media: IT cables, wireless connection, or PLT (power line transmission). Wireless technology and PLT help drive the introduction of networks in homes, in particular in existing buildings where installing new cables could be difficult and costly.

Homes are also increasingly equipped with HES (Home Electronic Systems) that can connect home network domains to network domains outside the house. ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 25 has published the ISO/IEC 14543 series of HES architecture standards, which allow the interoperability of products from different sources, and 15045-1 on a RG (residential gateway) model for HES.

The RG is an HES device that supports communications between devices within the premises and systems, service providers, operators and users outside the premises. It enables service and content providers to deliver services such as entertainment, video and broadband digital streams, monitoring for health care, security and occupancy, home appliance control and preventive maintenance, remote metering, and energy management.

ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 25 has also released International Standards in the ISO/IEC 29341 series for UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) Device Architecture, which allows devices to communicate with each other across networks (see UPnP article in January/February 2012 edition of e-tech).

Key market drivers

The spectacular growth of HAS, which has been forecast by ABI Research, will be sustained by service suppliers such as utilities, telecommunication and cable companies and security providers. Telecommunication and cable companies notably will seek to increase their ARPU (average user per user) and customer loyalty, according to a May 2012 Infonetics Research survey.

“With residential gateway revenue dropping because of price declines and a saturated broadband subscriber base, operators are looking to new services to increase revenue per subscriber”, according to Jeff Heynen of Infonetics Research. Heynen lists home automation, home security and multiscreen video, as well as the more recently introduced online gaming and video telephony, as the fastest growing new services that operators plan to offer over residential gateways. "In essence, residential gateways are becoming the gatekeeper for new, high-margin, revenue-generating traffic for operators”, he says.

The Infonetics Research survey showed that a home security service was the most popular home control service currently offered and is likely to remain a top home automation service (see article on security and alarm systems in this e-tech). It also forecast that monitoring of appliances and of whole-home energy usage would see the biggest growth among home automation services between now and 2013.

Standards necessary in a diverse environment

Although manufacturers in many countries are constantly coming up with different systems for networked home appliances and systems, they need International Standards to maximize their sales across countries. The extensive standardization work produced by ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 25 will help them achieve this objective.

Portable smart meter (Photo: Centrica) Portable smart meter (Photo: Centrica)
Alarm system control panel (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.) Alarm system control panel (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.)
Possible residential gateway connections and interfaces Possible residential gateway connections and interfaces