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Interoperability: The Key to Unlocking the Home of Tomorrow

The smart home, while once a tech mythology, is now a reality thanks to the growing number of connected devices and the rapid growth of the Internet of Things.
By Joe Murphy

The widespread success of smart-home technologies hinges upon solving some core challenges, notably usability, cybersecurity and interoperability. Informed consumers buying smart-home systems certified in all three of these areas can not only limit their own frustrations with setup and usage, but also protect the health and safety of occupants of their smart home.

Much attention has been paid to the usability and convenience provided by these technologies, ensuring that the latest features to help streamline and digitize everyday tasks accurately perform. The same goes for the cybersecurity of connected devices operating in a highly vulnerable—and growing—IoT space. However, research has found the largest barrier to smart-home adoption lies within that last challenge, poor interoperability—or, in other words, how devices communicate with each other.

Think about it: communication between two people in a house is often affected by distance, closed doors, ambient noise and so on. Similarly, transmission between two devices may suffer from some of the same factors. The number of walls or ceilings, and even competing neighbors' wireless networks, can make it difficult for wireless devices to communicate. In addition, certain surfaces like tiles, windows, blinds and mirrors can bounce audio signals in unwanted directions and make it difficult for our voice assistants to understand us.

For now, interoperability issues among smart devices have largely been contained to performance. However, what happens when communication discrepancies bleed into safety—like being locked out of the house or left without a working smoke alarm, or a senior citizen unable to use his or her medical alert to call for help?

Current product testing to combat these potential disruptions looks not only at whether devices are communicating properly during normal operating conditions, but also at what happens when the Wi-Fi goes down, there is a low Internet signal, the power goes out or other possible scenarios arise that may affect connected devices.

When you consider the large universe of devices and technologies potentially deployed in a smart home, it's clear their true power is best realized if they can share information and instructions with one another. There are several competing protocols at present, and more to come. These days, consortiums are forming to compete for the platform that can win in the marketplace. Additionally, industry leaders are working to establish basic interoperability tests and evaluate the emerging smart-home platforms.

The convenience and easy living the smart home promises for tomorrow will continue to bring forth exciting innovations—which can only thrive by solving the challenges of today.

Joe Murphy is an experienced director of business development at UL, with a demonstrated history of working in the public safety industry. He is a strong sales professional killed in Bluetooth, LTE, 4G, mobile communications, and go-to-market strategy. Joe has an engineering degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

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