May 9, 2019
A typical smart home connects devices over a low-power mesh network that can include a dozen – or sometimes more – nodes.
A mesh network is made up of nodes, or devices with wireless mesh radios, that communicate data to each other. Each node is both a transmitter and repeater that extends the connectivity of the network as a whole. This works seamlessly if the network nodes all use the same connectivity protocol, for instance, the Zigbee standard. In a mesh network, all devices are connected to all other devices, a built-in redundancy that makes the topology highly resilient — if one or two nodes fail, the flow of data can be rerouted along any number of other paths.
Mesh networking’s minimal power consumption is its primary draw in both the home and commercial sectors, as it helps boost the battery life of connected devices. While connecting a smart device over WiFi will quickly drain the device’s battery, connecting it to a mesh network will keep it running for far longer. Mesh networking also uses shorter links — typically less than 100 feet — which enables fast data transfer but may also require additional nodes to be positioned between more distant devices.
While many consumers start with just one node in their home — usually a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo or Google Home — strictly speaking, a mesh network should include at least three nodes. This threshold is being met with increasing frequency, however, as a growing number of consumers are starting to integrate sensors, plugs, cameras, and other smart devices into their homes’ mesh networks, often resulting in upwards of a dozen nodes.
We’re still in the early days of smart home adoption, but the market is already expanding quickly — the 2019 global market forecast for home IoT sits at $35.9 billion. And while 56 percent of consumers with smart home devices still have just one product, over a quarter of consumers have three or more smart devices in their home.
In many ways, three nodes makes sense as a baseline, as in the near future, most consumers will own a digital voice assistant and at least one device to control home security and another to control utilities. That said, today’s more developed smart homes may very well include as many as a dozen network nodes, including a couple of nodes from each device category (lighting, security, utilities, entertainment, etc.) and a gateway for IP connectivity. In fact, Cisco has suggested that by 2021, the average North American consumer will have some 13 connected devices in their home!
Most of the smart devices a typical consumer will need to connect to their home’s network will fall within the following categories:
In the short term, the number of mesh network nodes found in a typical smart home will be at least partially dependent on how consumers go about investing in smart technologies.
With a model like Samsung’s SmartThings, the consumer can figure out what they need based on their lifestyle and bundle connected devices that work together seamlessly. That might mean choosing devices from different manufacturers that all use a communications standard like Zigbee.
Consumers can also aim for more DIY solutions. For instance, SimpliSafe allows consumers to select the precise number of entry sensors, cameras, and glass-break sensors they need for their living space. The result is a comprehensive solution with a number of interconnected mesh nodes.
Alternatively, service providers like Xfinity Home and ADT’s Pulse already have a significant number of subscribers who pay a fee to receive smart home services. Around 40 percent of connected home solutions in the United States are purchased through service providers, and these consumers actually tend to buy 20 to 50 percent more devices, perhaps due to the convenience factor.
No matter how consumers go about finding and purchasing their devices, as they discover the considerable value-add of smart home technologies, they will inevitably continue to invest in more devices. However, to secure a true “smart home” experience, consumers will need a reliable way to achieve connectivity, especially as they add more and more devices to their networks.
The best way to achieve such connectivity isn’t WiFi — it’s the interoperability, scalability, and power efficiency of a mesh network.