According to a number of recent studies, smart home technology is more popular than ever – a trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Many analysts predict that the consumer-focused smart home market will be valued at roughly $40 billion by as soon as 2020 alone. Likewise, 80 million connected devices were shipped across the country in 2016 – an increase from 47 million in 2015, or roughly 64%.
The consumers themselves, to their credit, can’t get enough of this technology and the bold new era that it has ushered in. According to one recent survey, 57% of American buyers said that items like smart appliances, smart thermostats and other connected devices save them on average of 30 minutes per day – or roughly a week and a half throughout the course of a year. Based on that, it should come as no surprise that 70% of people who already own one smart home product are planning to buy another one.
But all of this demands a pretty important question – how can I be sure that smart home technology I’m investing in today won’t become obsolete tomorrow? Technology continues to advance at a break-neck pace and many connected devices aren’t exactly on the inexpensive side. How can you be absolutely sure that something that addresses your current needs won’t ultimately be a waste of time in the not-too-distant future?
Luckily, future proofing technology has also come a long way in recent years and if you truly want to future proof smart homes as an installer, you just have to keep a few key things in mind.
In your never-ending quest to future proof smart homes as an installer, perhaps the most important aspect to focus on comes down to how to smart wire your home. That means getting familiar with a concept called structured wiring, which itself is a powerful way to feed your home’s constantly growing need for more information-carrying capacity.
In many ways, structured wiring is the natural evolution of the traditional home wiring that has been around for over a century. A structured wired infrastructure (also commonly referred to as a "bundle") typically consists of two coaxial cables, two fiber optic lines and two communication cables – usually either Category 5E, Category 6, or Category 6A. Essentially, structured wiring is intended to support the digital signals of today’s modern devices, providing additional bandwidth both into and out of your home and adding much-needed support for additional information-carrying capacity as needed.
Simply put, traditional home wiring was perfect for the analog signals transmitted by the devices we used to have. Now that everything is digital, a new approach is needed to even support them – let alone take into consideration the additional need for as much speed as possible that we’ll all have once nearly everything in our homes is suddenly connected to the Internet.
If you’re currently involved in a home renovation project (or, even better, if you’re building a new one), take the opportunity to install structured wiring while the walls are still open. Make sure that every room has the potential to be a "connected room," even if you have no plans on having digital services installed in them just yet. Just because your living room is cut off from the rest of the world today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow – you never know what type of smart device you might want to install and it’s always a good idea to keep your options open.
Another essential factor to consider when future proofing your home for smart devices has to do with what happens when those wires actually end. Specifically, you’re going to want to think about Wi-Fi – another factor that will greatly affect both the current level of service you’re able to receive and your ability to expand and form a more complete smart home in the future.
This is another situation where technology as it stands is fine for today, but it isn’t necessarily what we need to continue to address our needs moving forward. The original versions of the Wi-Fi standard were more than adequate when everyone only had a device or two (maybe a laptop, for example) that could possibly connect to it. These days you’ve got to think about gaming consoles, mobile phones, tablets… and yes, smart devices like thermostats, door bells, automatic blinds and so much more. When you consider the fact that the average home already has about eight Internet-connected devices installed, all using the same Wi-Fi network and battling for the same bandwidth, you can begin to get an idea of just how important it will become to address this problem sooner rather than later.
This is a large part of the reason why you’ll want to make adjustments in your home to support the new 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard, something that is focused on "increasing the overall capacity of the network" as much as possible. In layman’s terms, it’s about making sure that your network actually has enough "room" on it to support all of the different types of devices that will be connected to it.
The aforementioned structured wiring will definitely play a big role in this, but your wireless access points will be equally so. You should absolutely begin upgrading all of your networking equipment whenever possible now – meaning it may be time to upgrade those wireless routers, modems, repeaters and other WAC devices – to support the onslaught of technology that will make use of the new standard over the next few years.
One analyst even predicts that while 802.11ax-enabled device shipments will remain relatively modest at 116,000 over the course of 2019, that number will absolutely explode to 58 million by 2021. Doing what you can to support this wave now will make sure that your home is actually "smart enough" to support the latest and greatest devices as they’re released.
All told, it’s important to understand that future proofing for smart homes as an installer isn’t necessarily going to happen overnight. But as the old saying goes, "slow and steady wins the race." Understanding as much as you can about the technology that is about to be released gives you a foundation to build from, as you can take a look at the current infrastructure of your home and see which gaps need to be filled and what you need to prioritize.
At that point you can sit back and wait for the smart home revolution to truly take hold, which will undoubtedly be a very exciting time for us all.