To be clear, there is nothing new about the concept of remotely managed home automation and security. It’s been talked – almost to death -- for decades.
Two factors have changed this market: the emergence of Internet Protocol-based devices, and the ubiquity of Internet-connected devices like smartphones, tablets and PCs.
Asked why DECT ULE, Dialog CEO Jalal Bagherli said in our exclusive interview, “The main thing for me was it was low energy [Dialog’s data-only or data and audio wireless sensor nodes can run for up to 10 years on a single AAA battery]. It’s not on all the time. But more importantly, this is compatible with the Internet.”
DECT ULE claims to offer “native” Internet support through light data-service support, while other low-energy wireless technologies do not.
Residential automation systems that have traditionally been high-end, whole-home systems requiring specialist installation companies are now becoming increasingly “modular,” according to IMS’ Arrowsmith. She noted, “Many consumers can set up themselves, and can order either online or via standard DIY stores.”
Modularity is driven by IP-based devices. Once they’re ubiquitous, it’s much easier for consumer to just use their own smartphones, for example, to control IP-based devices at home – remotely – over the Internet.
Critical to this scenario is the installation of a DECT base-station at home. That can be an Internet Access Device such a DSL or cable modem featuring a DECT chip; or a WiFi router integrated with a DECT chip.
As landline-based phones are viewed increasingly “irrelevant” to consumers who depend on their mobile phones for communication, gaining popularity in Europe is the use of an IAD with DECT chip for Voice-over-IP phone, according to Jos van der Loop, product marketing at Dialog. Dialog is already working on a reference design for such a system with Broadcom – the world’s leading modem chip supplier, he added.
To be sure, DECT ULE is backward-compatible with DECT, although the DECT chip inside the IAD will require a software upgrade.
DECT ULT builds on the mature DECT technology with proven range and simple plug-and-play connections, while running in the world interference-free spectrum. Dialog is banking on consumers’ familiarity with DECT and its perceived ease of use.
But for certain security or personal applications that may require voice communication (a fallen invalid talking to a paramedic trying to unlock a door; or directly talking to a doctor via voice), the Dialog’s CEO believes DECT has a clear edge over ZigBee, Z-Wave or Bluetooth.
Bagherli also stressed the simplicity of the DECT ULE network. Its point-to-point tree topology is easier for a consumer to configure than mesh-network solutions used by certain competing wireless technologies.
IMS’s Arrowsmith agrees. Noting that DECT ULE “has the opportunity to penetrate the residential automation and consumer health monitoring markets for a number of reasons,” she pointed out the significance of “consumer familiarity with DECT technology and its proven performance in residential environments (due to existing telephony systems); the existing installed base of DECT/CAT-iq gateways (which have the potential to be remotely upgraded to support DECT ULE devices); and the potential to also enable voice capability (which may be relevant to certain use-cases, e.g., some health applications).”
But none of this anoints DECT ULE as a sure winner in the already crowded low-power wireless market.
During an interview with EE Times in New York City last May, NXP’s CEO Richard Clemmer demonstrated lights – both compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and LED bulbs – that dim or brighten, go on or off – remotely via smartphone, tablet, PC or TV. That’s exactly the same concept that Dialog is hoping to enable with its DECT ULE devices.
Underlying technology for NXP’s vision of the “Internet of things,” explained by NXP’s Clemmer, is low-power RF and mesh-network solutions originally developed by Jennic, a startup NXP bought last July. In wirelessly controlling CFL and LED light bulbs, NXP is using 802.15.4 short-range wireless for communication, the same 2.4 GHz frequency in which ZigBee operates. However, NXP is ditching ZigBees protocols altogether. Instead, it is embracing IP-based protocol stacks – 6lowpan (Ipv6 over Low power Wireless Personal Area Networks).
IMS analyst Arrowsmith cautioned, “As with any new technology, DECT ULE will need to be carefully marketed to gain acceptance. It will be a case of finding the appropriate segment of the market upon which to focus efforts.”
She noted that Bluetooth low energy is set to be strong as a Personal Area Network (PAN) technology for portable consumer health devices (due to integration of Bluetooth 4.0 in cellular handsets); ZigBee is gaining ground in the Home Area Network (HAN) market through its inclusion in many smart meters and associated devices, such as thermostats.
The good news for Dialog is that none of these markets, despite all the industry jabber, have really taken off yet. Just as NXP bet its future on Jennic, Dialog is counting on its SiTel acquisition to lead the company into the low-power wireless market.