We live in an increasingly connected world, shaped by ever more sophisticated technologies as the IoT approaches tipping point. The digitalization and networking of more and more “things” is transforming all areas of our life, reaching beyond smart factories, offices, cars and suchlike to also redefine the home experience.
Demand for smart home devices and applications is experiencing dynamic growth as more and more consumers are looking to leverage the comfort, energy efficiency, and security benefits of smart home and building technologies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of smart home technologies. During the various stages of lockdown, many private homes morphed into offices, schools, entertainment hubs, fitness studios, and even healthcare centers. This shift in needs has also driven disruptive changes in terms of the range, functionality, and performance of smart home applications and devices now in demand. Today’s smart homes are much more than just a refrigerator that reorders milk or a coffee machine that recognizes users and knows their preferences. By 2026, ABI Research1 predicts that “the smart home market will reach $317 billion, up 5 percent over pre-COVID-19 forecasts.”
Homes that can “hear”, “see” and “smell” – science fiction or reality?
And this smart home trend is set to pick up even greater momentum moving forward. According to projections by the United Nations, more than seven out of ten people will live in cities by the year 2050. This will push the development of megacities with high-rise buildings, large apartment blocks, and massive office/public buildings. Digitalization will play a defining role in all of these buildings. According to the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, there will be around 154 million active IoT connections in smart buildings by 2025. And that’s just Europe!
What makes a home smart?
A home becomes smart by equipping everyday “things” such as heaters, ventilators, air conditioners, elevators, and lights with powerful electronics. Microelectronics enable all of these “things” to “see”, “hear”, and “understand” their surroundings. They can then autonomously process information, make decisions, and set chains of action in motion. There are several functional blocks required to build this kind of intelligence into smart home systems:
- Sensors mark the starting point of any IoT system as they capture environmental information and convert it into digital data.
- Microcontrollers are the nerve center of an IoT device, processing this data and generating control signals.
- Actuators set things in motion by converting the control signals into actions.
- Connectivity is the heartbeat of the IoT, linking all of these “things” to each other and to the cloud.
- Security solutions for devices, networks, and data create the all-important consumer trust in the digital world by protecting data transmission and ensuring the integrity of the connected devices and networks.
In a nutshell, the seamless, secure interplay between all of these functional blocks is what makes a home smart.
But it’s not all plain sailing…
The rising number of connected devices in the home is making networks more congested. Users often have to face service interruptions or wireless connectivity issues between different smart home devices. In addition, Wi-Fi devices often consume a lot of power. Some homes are also prone to dead spots and coverage can fluctuate or deteriorate from one room to another. At the same time, the popular 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz RF spectrum are becoming increasingly crowded, leading to performance issues. And many users have growing concerns about the security of their home and private data as IoT edge devices present an attractive target for home hackers.
To win user trust and unleash the full potential of smart home technologies, manufacturers of smart home devices and appliances need semiconductor solutions that address all of these connectivity, congestion, and security concerns.
Seamless and reliable connectivity for smart homes
In a home of connected experiences, excellent reception quality and fast, stable connections between IoT devices, the cloud, and the network are a must – always and everywhere. Various connectivity standards are evolving to support seamless communications for different use cases. The most popular are Wi-Fi for wireless local area networks (WLAN), Bluetooth® for content streaming, and Bluetooth® low energy (BLE) technology for ultra-low-power connectivity.
Of particular interest here are developments such as Wi-Fi 6. This latest generation of Wi-Fi was built specifically to improve reliability and performance, even in high device density environments. Unlike previous generations of Wi-Fi that focused on peak device speeds, Wi-Fi 6 includes advancements to relieve network congestion, and to improve network efficiency, device battery life, latency, and range in addition to peak speeds. This makes it ideal for online gaming devices with virtual reality capabilities, sports devices that stream workouts live, connected kitchen gadgets, and other IoT devices that typically congest the home network environment.
The answer: New combo families supporting the latest standards
Semiconductor player Infineon Technologies AG has responded to market demand for secure, reliable wireless connectivity in the home with its new AIROC™ combo family. Leveraging the benefits of Wi-Fi 6/6E and Bluetooth® 5.2, these combo solutions address the challenges of congested 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels by opening up the 6 GHz spectrum. They also bring extraordinary audio and video quality to media applications and extend coverage with robust, long-range connections for IoT applications. By comparison, AIROC™ doubles the wireless coverage range possible with Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4 and thus makes a valuable contribution to the elimination of dead spots and reception problems. Equally impressive, AIROC™ extends the coverage of typical Wi-Fi 6/6E solutions by more than 40 percent.
Infineon’s AIROC™ Wi-Fi 6/6E solutions are also equipped with the latest Bluetooth® 5.2 technology, enabling high-quality audio with LC3, and enabling new BLE audio use cases such as audio sharing and audio broadcast. The unique low-power wake-on-Bluetooth® LE mode allows the host CPU to conserve power while the Bluetooth® core autonomously “listens” for incoming connection requests. Advanced wireless technology innovations have been added to improve the BT/BLE range, general robustness for less interference and latency, while also reducing power consumption by 20 percent. This exceeds the BT5.2 specification. Infineon’s unique Smart Coex™ maximizes Wi-Fi throughput when used concurrently with Bluetooth®, making it ideal for demanding multimedia use cases. Last but not least, AIROC™ comes with multi-layer security features such as secured boot, firmware authentication and encryption, and lifecycle management. This higher level of security for IoT applications in the smart home will go a long way towards building the much-needed trust of consumers in the safety and integrity of their devices and data.
To accelerate development of Wi-Fi 6/6E and Bluetooth® 5.2 deployments for the smart home, reduce test costs, and support product certification, Infineon builds and delivers integrated Wi-Fi 6/6E solutions in collaboration with its module partners.
The AIROC™ Wi-Fi 6/6E and Bluetooth® 5.2 combo is currently sampling to select customers.
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