Getting Started With A Smart Home System

Child watching television in a lounge filled with furniture.

Once strictly the field of sci-fi movies, a home that can be controlled by talking to it when you’re in, or by remote control (via your phone) when you’re out, is no longer a fantasy. It’s not even the preserve of the super-rich, it’s available to buy on every high street or by clicking here.

Smart devices (Technically SMART, it’s an acronym for ‘self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology) are interconnected, intelligent products such as fridges, TVs, lights, home security, including doorbells and intercoms, heating and air conditioning and even vacuum cleaners. All these devices operate on a range of different platforms, such as BlueTooth, HaLow, (low power, long range wireless) or WIFI. Because the signalling between devices isn’t compatible with one another, it will be necessary to invest in a home hub. These are the voice activated characters we are becoming familiar with. Say “Alexa, do this!” or “OK Google, do that!” and the reassuring, yet robotic voice will reply while it puts your command into action.

If You’ve Heard About Smart Home Devices, But You’re Not Sure What They Are Or How They Can Improve Your Quality Of Life, Read On

The advantage of turning your home ‘smart’ is efficiency. You can tell the house to stay at a particular temperature, turn the heat up when you’re on your way home on a cold dark night, or turn the air con on if it’s been a hot day. Got unexpected guests coming over? You can tell the house to vacuum up while you’re in a meeting. And even devices that aren’t smart can still be made to play along. Plugs that switch on or off if it’s light or dark, hot or cold will respond to a smart device doing something, such as turning lights and heating on and off (this is called If This Then That or ‘IfTTT’) so if you’re on the way home and you’ve told the heating to come on, a smart IfTTT plug could turn the coffee machine on so you’ll have a piping hot cup of coffee waiting for you when you get in.

Smart home security is another popular issue. It’s a doddle to install wireless camera which link to your computer, hub and phone so you can always see who’s around your home, inside and out. Fire and smoke alarms can be set up to send you alerts via SMS or email if you’re out, and call the fire service, they will also send you a text when the battery is getting low so you’ll always know that they’re working. Smart entry and intercoms allow you to see who’s calling wherever you are in the world. You can talk to the delivery guys if you’re out, or preoccupied, let people you know and trust in and keep strangers out by talking to them when they ring your bell.

The more I think about it, the more a smart home is like having an electronic butler to do things around the house when you’re too busy or otherwise engaged. Smart blinds will open and close dependent on the time of day, and the light levels. Apply a ‘GeoFence’ and pre-determined actions take place depending on your proximity to your home; when you’re going out heating might go off, all doors and windows lock, security cameras turn on and relay to your phone or laptop, and, the reverse can happen when you’re arriving at home after a busy day.

You’ll be used to your Sky TV being clever, being able to record entire series, switching over to your favourite shows as soon as they start, recording pausing and rewinding live TV. (All things which make life magnitudes of scale easier than watching TV a mere 10 years ago, when such features were uncommon and expensive.) But what can Smart TV offer?

Smart TV isn’t just a way of watching broadcast channels. Smart TV is about using your TV set to access all the media, including TV, radio, the internet and internet subscription services such as Netflix and Spotify, games, and apps. And with voice activated assistants, you don’t even need to worry about losing the remote any more. Simply tell your Alexa, Amazon, or Google Home what you want to see or listen to, and it’s done.

And remember when you used to have to unplug the peripherals such as video recorder and DVD player to plug in a games console? Well, unwired entertainment means that you no longer have to dive down the back of the TV, scrabbling around for cables and sockets whenever you want to do something else with your TV.

A smart internet connected fridge might sound a little far-fetched but the application is actually quite practical. The theory is that you use a product’s barcode as you put it in and take it out of the fridge, and if a package, bottle or container isn’t returned, the fridge will re-order it to be included with your next online shopping list. They’ll also tell you when items have reached their expiry date, if they’re not at the right temperature, they’ve broken down or the door has been left open for too long.

As I said, the electronic butler you’ll wonder how you ever lived without!

Well, That All Sounds Great, But There Has To Be A Downside, Right?

Indeed there are issues that you should consider before binning all your old tech and replacing it with smart devices. Because the devices don’t all integrate on a single platform it can be inconvenient to either choose devices which can communicate, or find a hub which can accommodate all the different signalling. Of course there is a cost involved too, so you can either replace perfectly serviceable TVs, fridges, lighting et cetera, or wait for it to come to the end of its functional life, which could take years, depending on the quality of the good you invested in in the first place.

As well as the hardware issues, there are also software and privacy issues to think about too. Because your home needs to communicate with itself via WIFI, security and privacy are a concern. Naturally industry is well aware of the risks, and takes every reasonable precaution to protect you and your data from accidentally being revealed, or deliberately targeted by hackers. Best practice will mean that your personal data will be protected and encrypted, but there is always a risk that you can unintentionally reveal data. Sensible precautions to take would be to always assume someone is listening.

Always apply the WIFI security instead of leaving it unsecured. If you have friends and family dropping by all the time it may seem more convenient to let them connect without a password, but that means anybody passing can access your network. When you are paying for things, always use a keyboard to input the data, and never read out your credit/debit card details aloud. Always check your settings. Regularly give your access and permissions a healthcheck and experiment with how secure you can go. It’s safer to go too secure and tweak your access from there until you find a level of convenience you’re happy with than it is to start at the bottom and work up. Look out for updates. Always know what you’re giving permission to and don’t allow anything you don’t recognise, and if you’re in any doubt, Google it and see what people are saying. (Don’t simply go to their site as a professional scam will have online resources in place to lull you into a sense of security.)

If smart home security is a concern to you, and you’d like to know more before purchasing, look into Secure Boot, Mutual Authentication, encryption, and Secure Lifecycle Management. Or talk to one of our Smart Home installers here at Briant Communications. Our staff are trained in all aspects of installation, service, applications and security and offer impartial advice based on your home, budget and use.

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