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CES 2016: How can we future-proof our smart homes?

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Fancy homeLeading tech companies love to remind us that our multitude of connected devices, estimated to reach 21 billion by 2020, will continue to improve our quality of life in amazing new ways. But what good is having a lock you can open with your phone, a television with personalized recommendations or a fridge that can tell you when you’re out of milk if it doesn’t work properly or in harmony?

Absolutely no good.

In the smart home of the future, connected lights, appliances, televisions and a range of mobile devices compete for your Internet. And when the Internet goes out, it’s game over.

“I’ve got those lights that I control with my phone, and if the Internet goes out, I can’t turn on and off the lights,” said Alex Gizis, CEO of Connectify. “This is much more about reliability.”

Most of us in the United States are fortunate enough to have high-speed Internet. But can high-speed Internet sustain our homes of the future? It’s questionable.

There are a few solutions, however, that seek to address the problem. One of which is Speedify, which combines your Wi-Fi, mobile data, DSL and cable connections, speeding up the Internet immensely. Speedify Mobile creates a seamless hand-off between these networks so that uploads, downloads and shares are faster. It uses a cloud server to avoid failover, meaning if you were to unplug your router, you’d still be able to download a file from the Internet.

“I have a friend in Paris who’s now able to watch Netflix because we combined two 5 Mbps together so that it could run on 10 Mbps,” Gizis said.

When Speedify launched in June 2015, it was only available for desktops and laptops. Monthly plans start at $9 per month for 50 GB. At CES 2016, Speedify announced a mobile version, with yearly plans starting at $40. The mobile plans were designed to help users avoid surpassing their data caps. In both cases, users can configure exactly how the connection is used to avoid overuse of 4G or 3G data.

“Wi-Fi costs less than 4G, so it’s cost-aware and protects you from blowing through all your data if let’s say you weren’t aware that one of your apps was using as much data as it is,” Gizis said.

There are other technologies worth mentioning that bring us closer to a fully functional smart home. One of them is Sckipio Technologies, a semiconductor company that impressively demonstrated 750 Mbps of ultrafast broadband upload speeds at CES over telephone wires.

“Most DSL and cable broadband technologies are unable to provide a higher ratio of upload to download speeds, making it very challenging to deliver next-generation consumer services,” said David Baum, CEO of Sckipio Technologies.

In terms of routers equipped to handle an influx of smart devices, the new SR20 Smart Home Router, TP-Link, holds promise. What sets it apart from most routers is that it natively supports the ZigBee and Z-Wave wireless standards, meaning it talks directly to a smart lightbulb, so you don’t have to connect it to a router’s Ethernet port. Rather than have a number of smart home hubs next to your Wi-Fi router, you can control all connected devices through the TP-Link app.

As we add more smart TVs, lights and appliances to our homes, solutions like these will become more important. Gizis said he doesn’t have much direct competition right now in his space, but he expects that to change soon.

“About 100,000 people signed up for beta, and we only had a couple tens of thousands ready to ship,” he said. “I expect competition to appear quickly, but at this moment, it’s an enterprise thing. I don’t think it should be.”

 

Megan Anderle

Megan Anderle

Megan Anderle is a journalist based in northern New Jersey who writes about technology, business, and sustainability. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Forbes, and The Record.

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