We are at the cusp of two revolutions, one caused by the other.
The first is the 5G revolution. Already available in most major US cities, 5G is going to completely change how we think about mobile broadband internet and smartphone capability.
However, the impacts of 5G are also going to be felt in many other industries. Healthcare, government, and education will all never be the same as this technology rolls out and is applied in a wide range of areas.
On the home front, 5G promises to dramatically impact smart home technology. These devices are already making us more efficient (sometimes by as much as 30-50 percent!) and facilitating ease into our lives, but they are held back by our current network. This will no longer be the case, meaning 5G is set to usher in a smart home revolution.
To help you understand what’s about to change, here’s everything you need to know about how 5G will impact your smart home.
If you know nothing about 5G, you likely at least know that it’s been heralded as the “next big thing” in mobile phone technology. But what the heck is it?
Put simply, it’s the fifth generation of wireless broadband network standards to hit the airwaves. It is set to work alongside and in place of the current network standard, 4G LTE.
“But this network is just fine!” You might be saying.
For many applications, it is. Yet there are many other areas where it’s obvious that the current network technology just doesn’t cut it.
For example, have you ever been in a crowded area, such as a stadium or a train station, and been unable to get a solid LTE connection? Have you ever tried voice calling using mobile data? Does your home Wi-Fi ever slow down when lots of people are connected to it at once?
These challenges, while perhaps small inconveniences in our daily lives, represent some major shortcomings of 4G LTE pertaining to speed and bandwidth. This limits the development of other technologies, such as self-driving cars, which need to process lots of data in real-time to be able to work.
In this sense, while 5G will certainly have an impact on our lives, its biggest impact will be felt in society as a whole. The ways in which 5G will impact the smart home industry also reflect this concept, mainly by providing us with more options and devices to help us make our homes smarter.
To understand how and why 5G will be good for smart homes, it’s important to first understand what makes this technology so special. Some of its major benefits include:
Although 5G has a lot of promising things to offer, it’s not a perfect technology. Some of the things 5G can’t do or doesn’t do well may have an impact on its role in smart homes. Here are some of the biggest drawbacks to 5G technology as it relates to smart homes:
Labeled as a mobile broadband network, 5G actually stands to have the biggest impact in other areas, not just in mobile phone technology. One of those areas is smart homes. Already a $40+ billion industry, it is poised for future growth, fueled in part by 5G. One of the reasons for this is that 5G will help improve smart home technology and capabilities.
Here are some of the specific ways 5G is going to impact your smart home:
For a device to be called “smart” it needs to be able to access the internet. By connecting to a network, it can collect and transmit whatever data it needs to do to perform its function.
Currently, this means connecting your device to your home Wi-Fi network. It’s typically faster and more reliable than your wireless internet connection, and also more equipped to handle the extra traffic. But even Wi-Fi can’t always keep up. If multiple people are online at the same time, and a handful of smart home devices are also trying to connect to the network, it’s likely that you will suck up all your bandwidth and everyone will experience a slower connection. Some of your smart home gadgets may even disconnect altogether.
Using 5G will pretty much solve this problem. One of the features of 5G is what’s called a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN), and all this means is that 5G is able to provide a fast internet connection with very little power. This allows many more devices to connect and enjoy top speeds all at the same time.
What this means for your smart home is that you will be able to move all of your smart home devices onto a 5G-enabled LPWAN. This will take them off your home Wi-Fi network, freeing it up to be used for your normal activities, streaming, video chatting, surfing the web, etc.
This reduced strain makes your entire home network more reliable, and it will also allow you to scale up your smart home setup without having to worry about what it will do to the overall quality of your connection.
Part of what makes smart home devices so useful is that they are always connected to the internet. They are constantly collecting data and using that to perform better and also make your life easier. For example, if you have an automated lawnmower, it is constantly checking the weather and sensing for rain, and when it recognizes its not a good time to mow, it will delay its schedule and send you a notification.
All of this is amazing when you have a solid internet connection. However, if the connection goes offline, then things can get all messed up. If it’s just for a second, it might not matter too much. But if a device spends half its time disconnected then it’s really not serving its intended purpose.
This happens because smart home devices are often spread out around the home, often tucked away in closets or other protected areas. In these scenarios, it’s quite likely that the signal that does reach the device isn’t very good.
These connectivity problems can also arise when there is a lot of activity on your home network. This clogs up the bandwidth and makes everything slower.
They can also pop up for reasons that have nothing to do with what’s going on in your home. For example, bandwidth for cable internet is shared among the many houses on a street or in a neighborhood.
This is why your connection is probably a bit slower in the evenings after everyone is home from work than during the day. Now, imagine such a scenario where every house was fully-equipped with smart home technology. It would be even harder for them to get the consistent connection they really need to be able to perform their function.
Setting your smart home up with 5G will give your various devices their own network, which means they won’t be affected by their distance to the router or by what else is happening on the network. Instead, they will enjoy constant, stable, and fast internet, which they can use to do their jobs and make your life even easier.
Although we now access the internet primarily via wireless connections, in most cases, at least in our homes, it remains a wired technology. Most of us have cable internet, as it's often the fastest and also the most widely available. It gets “wired” into our homes where routers then transmit the signal wireless so that we can have and connect to a Wi-Fi network.
Cable companies have been working to provide faster and faster connections, but since they are providing a wired connection they will always be faced with bandwidth limitations, which limits the ability of these types of networks to completely cover smart home functionality moving forward. Plus, since improving these bandwidths would require running new wires across an ISP's entire service area, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon if at all. It’s just too expensive and not really necessary.
Part of the reason this is not needed is 5G. Since it’s wireless, 5G can reach many more homes and places of business without having to run any new wires. Yes, the range of 5G towers is limited. But using small cells, which are basically signal boosters, wireless providers can bring 5G to an entire city much more easily than a cable company could.
What this means for smart homes is that manufacturers don’t have to wait as long for internet technology to make their devices more useful. If they had to wait until we had a wired network connection capable of what 5G can do to offer more smart home applications, things would never advance. But since 5G makes it possible to deliver the network performance really needed to make this technology work, the smart home revolution is truly around the corner.
One of the chief complaints given by those who’ve adopted smart home technology is that their many different devices are not compatible with one another. In a perfect world, a big part of what makes a smart home smart is that its many gadgets can talk to one another and process data in real time to make your home smarter, safer, and more efficient.
For example, you smart speaker, which tells you the weather each day, should be able to speak to your thermostat to tell it to lay off the heat because it’s going to be ten degrees warmer than it was the day before. Or, you should be able to dim your smart lights by speaking to your smart speaker directly, not by having to go into an app, which takes almost as long as walking over to the switch to dim it to the brightness you want.
One reason why these devices aren’t currently equipped for communicating with one another is that they are still so new. Smart speakers have only been on the market for a few years, and many of the household products you can now buy are even younger. And even if they’re made by a reputable brand, the technology is still new; it’s true that Philips has been making light bulbs for decades, but how long have they been making ones that can be controlled from a phone? Exactly.
However, another reason for this lack of interoperability is...you guessed it...the network. Because there is no standard, each and every device uses a different protocol to communicate with your network. This means that the information that arrives at your router can’t always be understood by other networks, which means that data is inaccessible to them.
With 5G, all of these devices would be connecting with the same protocol. This would allow them to more easily receive data from other devices, allowing them to communicate and integrate with one another in the way we always imagined they would.
Another area where the current reality of smart home life doesn’t quite line up with the dream we have always imagined is the speed with which this technology works.
When dreaming up life in a smart home, most of us think of being able to speak commands to some central command system (the smart home speaker) and then getting instant results. We ask what time it is, and the answer comes immediately. We want to know what’s on the schedule? Seconds. If we say, “turn on the lights,” we expect it to happen right away.
However, if you’ve had any experience with current smart home technology, then you know that this is rarely what actually happens. Instead, you have to repeat yourself for the time, wait for it to call up your schedule, and stand in the dark for a few seconds waiting for the lights to come on.
These delays occur because of latency problems. When you speak a command, the device must hear it and process it, which requires transmitting data over the network, and then it must execute whatever command you’ve given it once it figures out what you want.
The long latency that plagues most modern networks doesn’t allow for this data to transfer quickly enough, producing these little delays that make it seem like your smart home gadgets aren’t quite as smart as they said they were.
One situation where latency can be a real problem is with smart doorbells. When someone approaches the camera, it starts recording and transmits the signal to your phone. However, if there is a latency issue and this signal is delayed, you’re already behind. If this person is indeed an intruder, this could make all the difference. With 5G, the doorbell would be able to instantly transmit the video feed, which would alert you that much more quickly and afford you that much more time to deal with the crisis at hand.
Because of the improved speed, bandwidth, and latency, 5G networks promise to dramatically improve cloud-based computing technologies. Since more data will be able to be accessed more readily, data can be stored on the cloud, and then devices that need it can access it in real-time without sacrificing speed.
One area where this offers a lot of promise is in the augmented and virtual reality space. In both technologies, the devices used need to come equipped with a lot of hardware, mainly to store information about the realities they create. These make these devices not only bulky and uncomfortable but also very expensive.
Being able to rely more on the cloud, as a result of the 5G rollout, will make virtual and augmented reality more accessible. Instead of having to put on an entire headset to experience virtual reality, you might just be able to put on a small pair of glasses. All of the heavy, bulky equipment previously needed to store data is now unnecessary because that information is in the cloud, and can be accessed by the device thanks to the fast speeds and improved latency offered by 5G.
At the moment, virtual reality has few applications beyond entertainment. But what could make your home smarter than a killer entertainment center? Not much. However, this narrow scope is soon to change. Expect to see virtual reality in other areas soon, though, and when you do, know that 5G will make it possible for you to enjoy them.
All of the ways 5G will impact your smart home do so by improving the speed and reliability of your network, and also by expanding your ability to integrate different devices. However, another way it will impact your smart home is by giving you the chance to make it even smarter.
As interoperability improves, and as network speeds and bandwidth get better thanks to 5G, there will be a greater incentive for tech manufacturers to come out with smart home solutions. Currently, limitations imposed by our existing networks make some smart home technology cumbersome and ineffective. The switch to 5G will change this and make it more accessible, expanding the market size. This will bring new products but also lower prices, as companies will be forced to compete with one another for a larger share of a growing market.
So, whether you have smart home technology installed in your home or not, expect 5G to make your house even smarter than it already is.
Up until now, all of the ways 5G will impact your smart home are overwhelmingly positive. Faster and more devices, interoperability, and more reliable networks. The list goes on, and it suggests that 5G is going to be really good for your smart home.
However, this is one potential impact that could be rather harmful: it will increase your exposure to a hack.
By connecting so many devices to each other, and also to other devices on your network, such as your phone, you are giving hackers many more chances to gain access. It’s of course unlikely that you would be targeted individually, but someone could decide to go after a specific device, or, more specifically, the app it's connected to, which would provide access to your phone and all the other information you’ve got stored on it.
Prevent this from happening by buying smart home devices from reputable companies. Do some research into what security features they offer. Is there a password? Do they encrypt data? What are the reviews around their app? Do they ask for a lot of personal information or want to track a lot of your data?
Beyond that, the best thing you can do is to practice good cybersecurity habits. Protect everything with a strong password, keep your devices up-to-date, and be careful who else you allow onto your network.
As 5G technology rolls out, expect more and even better security features. But in that gap between the early days of 5G and that time when we’ve addressed its security challenges is an important time to remain vigilant and keep yourself protected.
It’s true that smart home technology has been around since the 1970s, and that it’s been steadily becoming more a part of our lives over the past few years, the revolution is really just beginning. The concepts and theories are there; all that is needed is a network to do that job.
5G promises to be that network, and as it rolls out, expect your current smart home to get smarter, and expect more opportunities to leverage these technologies into easier and more efficient lives. So, as we welcome 5G into our lives, let the smart home revolution begin!