Smart must be simple, safe and secure

Panasonic UK MD Andrew Denham on why people are concerned about security issues with everything being connected and need assurance that any system will be safe, easy to use and deliver real-life benefits

At CES in Las Vegas, the word on the street was that this will be the year for smart homes. That’s because the opportunities are vast. Experts are predicting that 7.7 million UK homes will be ‘smart’ by 2019. But the question remains, what will be the tipping point? The smart-home concept has been just around the corner for a number of years now, but in reality it hasn’t quite materialised yet.

Ultimately, a system that addresses the barriers to smart-home investment will be successful. This means thinking about what the consumer does (and doesn’t) want. Consumers do want to be able to control their home systems easily from their smartphone and tablet. They don’t want separate apps for light bulbs, plugs, cameras and sensors. Smart-home technology is supposed to be about making life easier. That means having a simple way of setting up the network. Anything more than one-push pairing will have homeowners frustrated and will most likely result in them rejecting the system and returning it for a refund.

Consumers certainly don’t want to feel as if their lives are under the microscope, with their data being harvested by big business outside their control. According to research by the University of Nottingham, more than 40 per cent of people they polled rejected the idea of granting permission for energy providers to control their fridges and other home appliances, even if this activity would save energy and reduce their bills. Autonomy and a sense of control are key factors when it comes to consumer comfort with new technologies. That means a system where you ‘do-it-yourself’ is very appealing. Feeling like we are in charge gives us peace of mind, which is often a driver for investing in smart-home systems in the first place.
Another key consideration is a safe and secure network. For many, opening your home to the world with a webcam is a major concern. There have been numerous examples recently of security cameras and baby monitors being hacked. Delivering a simple, but totally secure, solution is therefore a must. That’s where connectivity options beyond wi-fi have a part to play. With the Panasonic Smart Home system, the smart devices (cameras, door sensors, smart plugs, etc) all communicate with the hub using the Dect ULE wireless protocol. The hub then communicates with smartphones and tablets paired securely with the home hub via the resident wi-fi network, enabling access and control of the hub wherever you are.

The reliability and range of wi-fi also creates challenges even in a modest-sized family home. Consumer feedback on past smart home solutions have highlighted difficulties with setting up home networks and more frustrations even once this is achieved. Not only is Dect ULE a more secure protocol, it also works over distances of up to 300 metres with in-built interference resistance and ultra-low-energy (ULE) usage in order to prolong battery life. These are all key considerations for an always-on, wide-ranging, smart-home system.

All of these factors mean that there is a gap in the market for a truly smart system that the consumer can easily set up, control and use – safe in the knowledge that personal data and images are secure. Panasonic’s answer to this is its Smart Home system, which features control hub, sensors for doors and window, smart plugs, sirens and two-way indoor and outdoor communication cameras. There is also a comprehensive roadmap of add-on devices to further enhance Panasonic Smart Home in the future.
The system is controlled via an app on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. All data is saved on the home hub itself. Only smartphones and tablets physically paired to the home hub will be able to access and control the hub, so security can be assured.

From a sales perspective, a system that fills this gap in the market is good news. According to Gartner, in 2009, there were 2.5 billion connected devices – most of these were mobile phones, PCs and tablets. In 2020, there will be over 30bn devices connected, of a far greater variety. That’s explosive growth. According to International Data Corp (IDC), the Internet of Things market – including the connected home – is predicted to be worth $1.9 trillion by that point.

In order to ensure this growth, the industry needs to better educate customers through a focus on easy set-up and, above all, sparking the imagination of the consumer as to the benefits they can really enjoy in their daily lives.

Creating an Internet of Things that really matter will be the key to unlocking value in this new and exciting market.