What do we expect for the Smart Home segment in 2021? We think the next twelve months will be nothing short of transformative, with new levels of connectivity and standardization that will essentially redefine the category.
Three converging wireless trends (5G, Wi-Fi 6 and the standards defined by the Project CHIP initiative) will combine to push Smart Home forward in a very big way. We’re not just talking about higher bandwidth and faster streaming, rather dramatically enhanced living spaces and at-home experiences that are more enjoyable, intuitive, efficient and secure.
Each of these trends on their own will impact the Smart Home segment, but how the three work together will really take Smart Home to the next level.
It starts with 5G fixed wireless access (FWA), which brings multi-gigabit speeds, low latency and greater capacity to your doorstep (or more accurately, to the FWA device connected to your home). Wi-Fi 6 then takes that 5G performance and brings it inside so your home network delivers faster performance with less congestion, and you can take advantage of more automation. Finally, the standards defined by Project CHIP deliver interoperability, making it easier than ever to expand and refine your home network.
All three of these trends are already underway and will accelerate over the course of 2021. Here’s a closer look at each.
Trend #1: 5G FWA for Broadband to the Home
Fixed wireless access (FWA) is the segment of cellular that services fixed locations like office buildings and private homes. 5G FWA was the first type of 5G service deployed, because it’s a compelling alternative to fiber-optic and other cable-based internet access formats used for “last mile” connectivity. There’s no need to run cabling, which is both time-consuming and expensive, and the necessary 5G-enabled equipment (routers, bridges and access points) can be installed quickly.
The deployment of 5G FWA continues to gain momentum. According to the November 2020 Ericsson Mobility Report, 5G FWA is now offered by nearly two-thirds of service providers globally. 5G FWA connections are forecast to grow more than threefold, reaching more than 180 million by the end of 2026 and accounting for a quarter of all cellular network data traffic.
In other words, if you want to bring broadband service to your home, it’s likely that 5G FWA service is already available locally or will be soon. As a global trend, the expansion of 5G FWA means more homes in more places will be able to take advantage of the secure, high-performance internet access that 5G provides.
Trend #2: Wi-Fi 6 for Better Experiences Within in the Home
The average home can have more than a dozen features connected to Wi-Fi, covering everything from security cameras and door locks to smart speakers, gaming devices, smart thermostats, kitchen appliances, pet doors and garden sprinklers. The number of connected devices is growing rapidly, which increases competition for network bandwidth. There’s increased demand for higher throughput too, as people begin using next-generation features like 4k/8k video, high-end gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR). Also, security is always a concern, especially when more of home operation begins to rely on connectivity.
This is where Wi-Fi 6 comes in. The latest generation of Wi-Fi (802.11ax) goes beyond a 4x speed upgrade. Several enhancements and additions to the basic protocol combine to support a virtually unlimited number of devices, with reduced latency and greater overall network capacity and efficiency:
- More Responsive
Wi-Fi 6 uses OFDMA access so multiple users, with varying bandwidth needs, can use the same channel simultaneously with everyone enjoying faster, more efficient services. Working alongside OFDMA, the MU-MIMO communication format expands capacity, improves coverage and increases performance in ultra-high-density environments. Each access point can transmit to a larger number of concurrent clients at once, so there's less waiting at each receiving device and the quality of the connection goes up even though there are more users. Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024-QAM for a 25% increase in data throughput compared to the previous version of Wi-Fi (which uses 256-QAM). That means Wi-Fi 6 delivers the kind of high-speed transmission needed for things like 4K video streaming and AV/VR.
- More Efficient
Wi-Fi 6 delivers significant power savings for battery-powered devices using target wake time (TWT), a power-efficient scheduling scheme that lets a Wi-Fi 6 access point set the wake time for each client, based on individual device requirements and expected traffic activity. This technology powers lowers the energy cost of operation, enabling more use of battery-powered devices and, as a result, opens up new opportunities for low-power sensor networks in the home. Wi-Fi 6 also enables longer-range communication to devices in the far corners of your home, using extended range data rates.
- More Secure
Wi-Fi 6 mandates the use of WPA3, the latest access protocol, which uses a stronger encryption format than previous versions. WPA3 deliver high-level security, so what happens in your home remains private and better protected from unauthorized access.
For more on Wi-Fi 6, I’d encourage you to download our new research paper “How Wi-Fi 6 is Driving the Next Wave in Wireless Innovation.”
Trend #3: Connected Home Over IP (CHIP) for a Seamless Ecosystem Experience
The third trend helping to redefine Smart Home isn’t an access protocol like 5G or Wi-Fi, it’s an industry-driven initiative to bring much-needed interoperability standards to home networks.
At present, it’s not always easy to install and manage a Smart Home network. The new system you want doesn’t always work with what you already have, and you may need to spend more to get everything in place. The network itself may end up being more complicated than you’d like, and complexity can increase over time since what you install today may not work with what you want to install tomorrow.
A new project, recently started by the Zigbee Alliance, promises to bring the unification, security and plug-and-play operation the Smart Home market needs. The internal working name for the effort is “Project Connected Home over IP” or “Project CHIP.” The goal of the initiative is to create a common language, to be used by different protocols, so they can talk to each other without needing additional hardware or software for translation. The common language will support connectivity using the internet protocol (IP), the same protocol that creates the foundation for the internet. To encourage widespread support and remove barriers to entry, the common language will be based on open-source software and will be royalty-free to use. The project is also defining requirements for certification, so devices that use the new standard can be verified compliant.
Project CHIP is moving quickly, and the Zigbee Alliance anticipates that certified products will become available in 2021. With Project CHIP in place, it will be easier to securely and robustly connect devices across ecosystems and, as a result, the Smart Home will become a more secure, more intuitive place to be.
It won’t matter if you’ve already installed a solution from Amazon, Apple, Google or SmartThings—because new devices will be interoperable. Also, you’ll have more flexibility in the wireless radio you use, because you can mix and match Thread, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE and more, without translation, to support a variety of use cases. Low-power and small devices will connect in a reliable mesh network with lights, switches, thermostats, door locks, window shades and security systems all using the same language. Connected networks of control devices will be able to communicate directly with each other, without translation, and IP-based standards, integrated with wireless connectivity and compute platforms, will enable design innovation.
To learn more about Project CHIP, I’d recommend reading our brand new whitepaper, titled “Future-Proofing the Smart Home.”
Bringing It All Together
As these three trends converge, 2021 promises to be a turning point for Smart Home. With 5G FWA in place and expanding its coverage, Wi-Fi 6 gaining momentum and Project CHIP delivering certified products, broadband connectivity will be more readily available at home, and there will be new, more engaging experiences within the home, and the network itself will be easier to install and expand.
NXP is, of course, deeply involved in all three of these wireless trends. For 5G FWA, our Access Edge technologies, based on the open O-RAN architecture, make it easier to maintain, upgrade and extend 5G capabilities. That’s one of the reasons why Verizon chose use as their partner for their new multi-gigabit 5G wireless rollout, which is bringing 5G FWA support to homes and businesses.
For Wi-Fi 6, our portfolio of optimized solutions represents a differentiated technology approach designed to help usher in an era of connectivity innovation. Having already introduced our cutting-edge Wi-F 6 portfolio, and announced several groundbreaking design wins, we are looking forward to maintaining that momentum in the coming year.
And, as a leading member of the Zigbee Alliance (we sit on the board), we’re deeply committed to Project CHIP. We’re in a leading position to contribute to the initiative, too, because the main objectives of the project – compatibility, connectivity and security – are directly aligned with our strengths. We’re drawing on that strength to help Project CHIP meet its goals.
Connect with NXP
To learn more about how 5G FWA, Wi-Fi 6 and Project CHIP will enhance wireless connectivity and transform Smart Home in the coming year, visit us at nxp.com/connectivity