The “smart home” is becoming a reality. We’re starting to see the launch and adoption of countless types of Wi-Fi-enabled devices that previously had no digital value or function. It’s only a matter of time before the entirety of our homes are stitched together through the same Internet connection, making the bandwidth and coverage of your Wi-Fi more important than it’s ever been.
The term “smart home” is somewhat vague, and open to multiple interpretations, as there is no single industry standard for how smart home technology is developed or how it’s defined. Instead, colloquially, a smart home is a home with at least a handful of Wi-Fi enabled devices that offer digital menus, advanced features, and other high-tech upgrades for otherwise common appliances and functions. So what types of appliances are currently enjoying these features?
Types of Wi-Fi enabled devices now and in the future
You can find smart devices in almost every room of the house:
Security cameras. Smart security cameras are connected to your home WiFi and allow you to access a live stream right on your phone, while also continuously recording footage to the cloud. These advancements minimize some of the annoyances of past iterations, allowing you peace of mind.
Arlo Pro by Netgear is one of the newer products in this category, and it has the added advantages of being 100% wire-free, waterproof, and rechargeable. In the future, home security could see sophisticated sensors predicting you at the door and auto-unlocking the home, or tracking your family’s movement patterns and alerting you when something is out of the ordinary.
Thermostats. Smart thermostats allow you to remotely control the temperature and monitor the atmosphere of your house from a connected mobile device, from almost anywhere.
Ecobee3 is one popular brand here, offering all the usual bells and whistles as well as free monthly reports on energy usage and tips for how to save more. Future thermostats may draw in information about the weather, or from other devices, to produce a comfortable temperature, requiring faster and more reliable connectivity to the Internet.
Televisions. Many modern television manufacturers are now building “smart” models, which connect to the Internet and stream video and audio without the need for any secondary device to be connected to it. For example, Sony offers a TV that uses the Android operating system to allow users to download and manage any number of apps, including those for popular platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Future TVs will stream in more advanced resolutions, even beyond 4K, and may offer integrated forms of augmented reality or virtual reality to make viewers even more immersed. Demands for additional bandwidth are going to skyrocket as these products become commonplace.
Refrigerators and ovens. The kitchen is becoming connected to Wi-Fi too, starting with smart refrigerators, like those from Samsung, which allow you to use a touchscreen to manage your grocery inventory, find recipes, and monitor your nutritional intake. Smart ovens, like June, can even help you figure out how long your food needs to cook, and recommend new recipes for you to try.
Kitchen appliances of the future may be able to take actions automatically, such as ordering new groceries when you’re running low, or pre-heating for a party you’re planning.
Monitors. Home security systems are becoming more advanced, with remote controlling possibilities and features that allow for more user customization. Systems like Piper make it easy to set up security and monitoring in any room of your home and access a live feed with your smart device anywhere in the world. In addition, baby monitoring systems like those from Project Nursery are becoming similarly advanced. For example, one of its latest products comes with a portable, smart watch-like device that allows you to monitor your chosen room in real time, and execute a number of different functions.
The future of security will depend on more discreet technology, and the provision of or access to more information, which requires a reliable Wi-Fi connection.
Devices still to come. These are only the start of the types of devices we’ll see with Wi-Fi connectivity. Any electrical appliance could theoretically connect to the Internet to collect information, perform better, or connect to other devices—think alarm clocks, toasters, treadmills, lights, and even toys. This will make it even more important to have consistent Wi-Fi coverage throughout the house, especially if you depend on these devices to wake up on time or function in day-to-day life.
Barriers to success in the future
So with all these smart devices already available to the public, what’s to stop every appliance in every room from becoming Wi-Fi enabled? Where does the future of the smart home lie?
Over the next several years, we’ll definitely see the emergence of new and surprising Wi-Fi enabled devices, from wireless speakers to bathroom scales, but before we start living in a Jetsons-like era of technology, there are a few more barriers to overcome:
Wi-Fi connectivity. First and most importantly, remember that all of these devices are practically useless without a strong, reliable Wi-Fi connection. Internet functionality has come a long way in the past two decades, but dead zones, outages, and general unreliability are still issues for many homeowners. Traditional wireless routers have made it possible to connect to the Internet wirelessly, but standalone routers can come up short when it comes to maximizing your Internet speeds or ensuring coverage throughout the house (especially for bigger homes). Thankfully, brands like Orbi (from Netgear) are working on a solution. Orbi is a new home Wi-Fi system that offers stable Wi-Fi coverage throughout up to 4,000 square feet of space, and special tri-band Wi-Fi that ensures top Internet speeds particularly when multiple IoT devices connect. There are similar solutions, but they lack the all-in-one simplicity and performance of Orbi.
Interactive connectivity. Your TV, thermostat, and refrigerator may all be able to send data over Wi-Fi to different apps on your smart phone, but are they able to communicate with each other? Crossing that major barrier, so you can change the temperature of your house on the TV, or turn the oven on while you’re at the refrigerator, is still a major hurdle.
Universal language. It’s also problematic that most of these smart devices are produced by different companies, and all of them speak different “languages” and use different apps. Brands like Amazon are trying to resolve this issue with “hubs” like Alexa, but there’s still a long way to go before they can efficiently tie everything together.
Cost and practicality. Finally, there’s the cost and practicality of implementing these devices in homes. Smart appliances are generally costly, which makes them prohibitive to many segments of the population, and not all homes are outfitted with the infrastructure necessary to accommodate all these systems. Until the barrier of convenience is passed, widespread adoption will remain difficult.
Once these barriers are met or exceeded, it won’t be long before the majority of homes in the United States are outfitted with this revolutionary new technology. Every device or appliance you own will be able to “talk” to each other and provide data wirelessly to you, so you can manage your home more effectively than ever.