The State Of Smart Home Technology
I have been designing and implementing home automation projects, a.k.a., smart home technology, since 2001. In those sixteen years, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly! Sixteen years ago, the technology still left a lot to be desired. Compared to what we have to offer today, most of the automation products were expensive, cumbersome, difficult to use, and not particularly reliable. Not to say there wasn’t a lot of potential.
Fast forward to 2017; the difference in product breadth, reliability, functionality, and affordability is phenomenal. Not only are there are plethora of smart home products, but in the last couple of years, there has been an explosion of companies vying for your smart home business. There are the old hands in this business, the low-voltage integration companies (like my company), alarm companies, telephone companies, cable TV companies, even cellular carriers.
Unfortunately, it gets even more complicated from a consumer’s vantage point.
How to get started
There are smart home products designed to be sold retail and self-installed by the homeowner, and there are products designed to be professionally installed and maintained. Some products blur the line between consumer and professional. Voice assistant products like Amazon’s Echo/Alexa are an example.
So if you want to start down the smart home technology path, there are three possible avenues available to you: 1) buy a consumer product (from the usual electronics retailers), and install it yourself, 2) contact the phone or cable company in your area for available smart home package(s), or 3) contact a low-voltage integration company.
Everybody is getting in on the action
The consumer products are inexpensive and do work, for the most part, and all have an app for your smart phone. However, they offer either no or limited ability to work with other products. So, using the prior example, if you purchased the consumer lock, camera or thermostat, you would most likely have three separate apps for individual control of the three items. I know someone that has more than 24 smart product apps on his phone! None of these work together!
Ma Bell, the cable company and the big-name alarm company generally offer some kind of package or packages. Something like a smart lock, a camera or two, possibly some kind of hub-based alarm. The advantage is little or no up-front, out of pocket cost. The disadvantage is a relatively high monthly cost based on a term contract (2, 3, 5 or 7 years!). Not to mention low quality equipment, and an alarm that is easily defeated.
The professional low voltage integrator
Low voltage integration companies are smart home professionals that design, implement and maintain smart home systems. They can design a system with a single app that pulls together all those separate things you may care to automate. The lock, the camera, the lights, the alarm, etc. all work together. Additionally, your home entertainment equipment and systems can also be included, which is something consumer product vendors and Ma Bell cannot do.
A professional integrator can program things to happen automatically based on your life style. For example, arming the alarm system when you will be away from the house can automatically set certain lights on, off or at a pre-determined level, set thermostats, and turn off entertainment systems. There are thousands of possibilities.
In summary, your choice depends on what you want out of your home technology. If all you want to do is automate one lock, a consumer product may make sense. If you want no up-front out of pocket expense, Ma Bell may be your answer. If you want a professionally designed system with a single point of control, contact a smart home technology specialist at a low-voltage integration company. I think you know which one I would recommend. You’ll be glad you did!