Does integration and amalgamation herald the death of the smart home hub?

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The rising adoption of smart home devices is great news for a number of sectors, and is being boosted by the roll out of new product ranges and service packages. A particularly notable success story is the combination of smart speakers and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is offering an alternative smart home hub. 

Accessing smart home services in a whole new way, with voice for example, is evolving thanks to AI voice control, while some smart speakers already act as a smart home hub. 

The adoption levels of smart home technologies are rising across the board, with a recent research report from Parks Associates claiming that 17 percent of broadband households in the US now own an Internet-connected entertainment device and a smart home device, with an additional 13 percent owning both a connected health device and a smart home device.   

When looking closer at adoption rates for smart speakers, new stats from YouGov found that one in ten Britons now owns a smart speaker, up from just one in twenty in Q3 2017, and over a third (34 percent) say they interact with other smart devices using their speaker, with 26 percent saying that they bought their smart speaker specifically because it can integrate with other smart home devices. 

This integration has always been a key component of success in the current market in our opinion, as is the need to demonstrate strong consumer value. Consumers are increasingly resistant to run power-hungry dedicated boxes, which is something that Deutsche Telekom recognized early on. Rising environmental awareness has made single-use, power hungry hubs unpopular, as well as the pure practicality barrier of having multiple wireless hubs to setup and manage. 

Open standards are the way forward as they not only allow enterprises to collaborate and work towards a more dynamic and accessible ecosystem, but also offer the consumer more readily recognized products that fit together, removing the compatibility guesswork and technology research.

A fascinating example of this urge for integration is the dedicated smart home hub. Only a year ago, the smart home hub was the de facto starting point for a smart home installation, but nowadays, the traditional ‘single purpose’ hub is becoming less popular due to a host of market pressures, including customer expectation. Smart home systems and devices now offer integration that is adding to simplicity, so routers, for example, are no longer ‘dumb’ connector points for phone calls, Internet and TV services. Instead, they can now function as the first stop on a smart home journey, giving consumers access to basic functionality for free. 

In 2017, Deutsche Telekom began rolling out software upgrades to consumer routers across Germany, so that the popular Speedport Smart router can control Deutsche Telekom’s end-customer offer Magenta SmartHome devices. One example is in adding a compatible low-cost device such as a door/window contact or motion-sensitive camera to create a simple but effective home security solution for very little outlay. This single, simple but effective point of entry is another vital ingredient to smart home success.

Voice control and AI have proven to be popular with consumers, and many service providers and manufacturers are now already looking to the future, with the next generation of smart displays being integrated with voice AI, thanks to control compatible devices, such as smart doorbells and smart light bulbs.

A key underlying trend behind the product launches is that consumers continue to refuse to engage with complex sales pitches, reams of spec figures and wild claims. Any developing market has its fair share of these elements, but the real successes in the smart home market have been services and products that offer a simple, low barrier point of entry to the market. This has become ever more important as the space evolves and becomes more complex. 

The increasing levels of product and service integration in the market will be subject to the same requirements and integration for the sake of it will prove to be unsuccessful as ‘walled gardens’ being well received in the long term.  

The connected car, where integration has faced obstacles, is also gaining momentum, as the rise in hybrid and fully electric vehicles (EVs) continues. Deutsche Telekom's partnership with Volkswagen, which centers around Volkswagen’s Car-Net App Connect, enables car owners to seamlessly control their Magenta SmartHome, which is based on Deutsche Telekom's open, white label smart home platform.

Volkswagen drivers can control their Magenta SmartHome directly via their vehicle’s infotainment system. Using the control panel, the driver can activate or turn off pre-set scenarios while driving. For the scenario “coming home”, the lights in the driveway and house entrance would turn on automatically when the vehicle approaches, as the Magenta SmartHome app connects to the vehicle.

As mentioned above, the value of standards-based integration should not be underestimated in this brave new world. It is the ability for devices and services being dependent on their compatibility with partner and peer products that will enable those same devices and services to add value to the smart home. Deutsche Telekom’s white label, open smart home platform works with many household name manufacturers’ devices and appliances. With a current portfolio of more than 250 compatible devices and a growing number of partners, our inclusive approach will only become more important as devices converge and customer requirements and expectations increase. 

Better collaboration, more partnerships and clear, widely accepted standards have been our preference and advised route to market for some time and the rapid evolution of the smart home sector is a strong sign of a maturing market headed in a positive direction. While better integration and a stronger, more collaborative space will mean the plain old smart home hub is on the ropes, and will soon die out entirely, that future is bright for the smart home. 

It means the smart home market is evolving very quickly, and a device that was regarded as essential just a year or so ago is now integrated into a variety of more powerful devices, so will soon face obsolescence. This evolution and integration is trend-setting and powerful, and the challenge of following its fast pace is one we welcome.  

Thomas Rockmann , VP Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom 

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