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With more smart home devices being launched by various solution providers in today’s emerging consumer market, challenges like seamless connectivity, mesh networking, interoperability, data security and device security are increasing, as shown in Figure 1. Today, the selection of consumer smart home devices and gateways for requirements such as safety or temperature monitoring, can be a complex process. Most of these devices are manufactured based on different communication protocols and technologies. Forming a home topology network to make third party home devices operational is an increasingly painful job. Connectivity, for example, is one of the major concerns for end-users looking for plug-n-play home devices to work together easily. And, while connectivity opens a door for a range of highly differentiated home appliances and entertainment products in the smart home market, interoperability remains a core challenge for handling protocol level translation and device abstraction on the home network. As most smart homes currently operate in a fragmented fashion, largely covering Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Thread and other network protocols, we have not yet reached a point of true interoperability for home network design, although some standards are now emerging.
As of today, many wireless technologies and middleware protocols are considered for the development of smart home applications and products like home automation, home appliance control, elderly care, healthcare monitoring, energy management, and home entertainment. To realize some of these killer applications, and for a seamless user experience, the respective protocols or technologies needs to “interconnect” with each other in the home network for better communication. From the end-user’s perspective, smart home products should be simple to connect; home users expect a “plug and play” concept, offering ease of use and seamlessness across different products with every interaction, despite the lack of standards support that exists today in the market. While progress toward interoperability is happening with limited support in the consumer market, new smart home devices are emerging at a steady pace. For example, Amazon’s Echo device has gained good market traction, and many device manufacturers have enabled Alexa, Apple Home kit, and Google Home support in their commercially available home products, allowing different third-party devices to communicate with these top-notch products.
However, there are very few smart homes. Many homes have a large number of smart home devices with inbuilt intelligence, but these devices typically do not work together as expected. The user’s expectation is to have a single hub or home gateway, where all their smart connected devices are connected for better management of the home network. To realize this, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) are expected to focus on adopting some of the emerging standards like OCF, dotdot, or Matter (formerly Connected Home over IP (CHIP)), so that integration of all home devices happens at one single hub or home gateway on the south-bound side. Single point integration on the home gateway is expected to create and capture consumer interest and loyalty, which can generate substantially more revenue and business opportunities for OEMs and service providers. But the main problem in a smart home is that operators and services providers do not seem to have interest in supporting interoperability, and most of the classical home automation services that exist today are not highly interoperable. However, to reach large scale deployments of certain specialized smart home solutions, interoperability should be considered in the short-term, and should be one of the cornerstones for upcoming home automation products.
To address the connectivity, interoperability, and security challenges of interconnecting and intersecting different home consumer products, the Internet of Things (IoT) must be interoperable in the smart home space. A Next-Gen EDGE Gateway (NG-EG) based on Edge computing, as shown in Figure 2, covering all the features listed will be required to address the key challenges. The design of NG-EG should be protocol-agnostic – that is, the NG-EG should able to communicate with any flavor of home device via any existing technologies such as 5G, LTE, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Thread, NFC, Zigbee, Z-Wave, BLE, DSL, and also cover middleware protocols like CoAP (Constraint Application Protocol), MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport), SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), and streaming protocols like RTSP/RTP/RTCP, HLS, HTTP-PD, MPEG-DASH, DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) & UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) to handle any possible combination of use cases/scenarios that might be realized in a smart home. Some of the above-mentioned technologies are already used today in different consumer products such as Alexa / Echo, Google Nest, Apple Home Kit, Philips Hue, Smart Locks such as Kwikset / August / Schlage / Yale, Samsung Smart Things, and Google Home.
Some of the new frameworks are required to be enabled in NG-EG to overcome challenges such as Edge computing, seamless connectivity, security, simultaneous & multiple service activation for real-time and non-real-time applications, end-to-end quality of service (QoS) management in varying network conditions and a unified hardware design for fast switching of multiple access technologies during failure of networks. The proposed NG-EG software architecture as shown in Figure 3 has six new software frameworks and a modular hardware design based on the vision of futuristic smart homes that includes: –
With 5G as an emerging trend happening today in smart home market segment, the 5G networks, in combination with network slicing, will make the home users to enjoy connectivity and data processing tailored to the specific application requirements adhering to a certain Service Level Agreement (SLA) agreed with the cellular network provider that includes data speed, quality, latency, reliability, and security.
As the 5G network is getting rolled out quite rapidly across the globe, the home appliances like washing machines, Refrigerators, air-conditioning units, water heater and many other devices are expected to be enabled with 5G-NR. This will make it useful for a broad array of connected products in the smart home along with the 5G Home router (5G RAN) as shown in figure 4. This new wide-area network will allow any plugged-in 5G home device to connect directly to a 5G-enabled NG-EG, bypassing Wi-Fi for more reliable performance. The lower latency based on 5G will make smart home devices like video doorbells, security alarm and cameras shall make the home networking system more reliable, as well as keeping everything in the home connected, no matter how many home users are using the internet at once.
To provide a better home network capable of addressing a variety of devices with different QoS requirements using the 5G, the network slicing concept plays a major role (see figure 5). With Network slicing, the various home killer applications can be ‘sliced-up’ into multiple virtual (end-2-end) networks, where these home applications can be individually optimized for different data traffic generated from various end devices such as smartphone, Video Doorbells, Smart TV, Surveillance Camera, Fire sensors and many more. The network slicing support on NG-EG can support (i) isolation of bandwidth, (ii) isolation of traffic, (iii) isolation of control and (iv) ability to independently modify the data traffic to meet the end user expectations. For example, all video traffic from home surveillance camera might be under the control of one slice; the smart meter /IoT device traffic from another slice; the media entertainment on Smart TV in another slice and all remaining traffic may be part of a default slice. The slicing mechanism can be designed in such a way that a slice’s control plane can only control traffic belonging to its slice.
The Next-Gen Home Gateway (NG-EG) vision for the smart home ecosystem will be based on a modular approach to the hardware platform and unified middleware framework, covering seamless connectivity over 5G and Fiber optic, mesh networking, interoperability, and security based on blockchain through the OPEN APIs concept. An NG-EG can address the fragmented smart home segment in a better way for the global market, interconnecting many of the home products (see figure 6). Eventually, NG-EG should be able to meet the needs of consumers who want to make their home products much smarter and part of an ecosystem of ‘future connected devices’.
The Open/Managed API-based approach for middleware framework design for NG-EG can help manufacturers stay more focused on creating innovative products and services. It can allow end-users to select any flavor of home products from different manufacturers to create a “Smart Service – for example, Door Unlock -> lights ON –> Coffee maker ON – that offers end-users a greater user experience by connecting with other OEMs’ products. The Open/Managed API approach can also provide a customizable interface, through which developers can access the APIs along with the relevant documentation, partnership models, and other useful information. Similarly, more advanced services can be provided for the emerging market from an NG-EG for connected cars, where home devices can be controlled from the car network – via the car dashboard – thereby addressing the connected car market segment as well potentially generating more revenue.
Creating a 5G based home network with network slicing and by enabling a unified middleware framework(s) presented in this blog on an NG-EG shall create a truly unified system, which will realize the potential of next-gen smart homes – by not only improving the speed, interoperability, and reliability of connected systems, but also expanding the connectivity over 5G by offering benefits such as improving scalability, dynamicity, security, privacy, QoS requirements, and efficient resource management.
Vijay plays a strategic leadership role in building connected IoT solutions in many market segments, including consumer and industrial IoT. He has over 25 years of experience and has published 19 research papers, including IEEE award-winning articles. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the Crescent Institute of Science and Technology, India.