Yes, there is nothing wrong with your computer screen, this is the real title for the article. That device you see laying there next to the TV, in your living room or bedroom, could easily become the brain of your Smart Home.
Set-Top Box (STB) devices saw a huge evolution in recent years. A long time ago we first witnessed the appearance of Linux powered STBs, which brought a sort of innovation in the way we consume audiovisual content, as well as our interaction with the device itself.
Those devices, although now considered as outdated, are still an important part of the Telco and Cable Operator ecosystems, as they are practically the last mile for content to reach your screen and pleasure your eyes.
Nowadays, we are witnessing a surge of more powerful and robust STBs, running on the Google Android TV operating system or on Amazon FireTV OS (an AOSP flavor of Android) that, per default, comes with some of the most important features, such as Google or Amazon Alexa voice assistant. These features can be used right out of the box to interact with smart devices you already own and have deployed in your household.
According to the Statista Research Department, it is estimated that 26.6 billion electronic devices already have Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. If we take things even further, by 2025, this number is expected to rise up to 75.4 billion, giving it a fivefold increase from 2015. The opportunity is there.
Three years ago, we at WeTek decided that every single one of our newly created devices should come by default with extended support for IoT, meaning that inside our products we started adding a small SoC, which will allow our devices to communicate with others, using some of the well-known protocols. Not to mention that, by default, all of our devices already have integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with extended support for BLE mode.
In general, the majority of IoT devices (or things how we like to call them) are either using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave or Thread as a standard or protocol to communicate with other things and their hubs.
At the time, when we were thinking about which path to take, we had to consider multiple factors in order to stick with a protocol to focus ourselves on. The core of our business is to provide next-generation services and solutions to Telcos, Cable operators, Broadcasters and ISPs, meaning that whichever solution we came up with, it should be secure, scalable and easy to deploy and maintain.
Our first iteration of the STB with the additional SoC for IoT only had Zigbee support as a smart home protocol, while today, with the evolution of these small SoC’s we are able to support Zigbee, Thread, and BLE in concurrent mode.
The ideal implementation of any Smart Home system is to be simple and easily operated, so that any family member can easily interact with it.
Role of the smart hub
Considering that virtually everyone is interacting with an STB on a daily basis to get their favorite audiovisual content, it is a considerable advantage for this device to be the brain of your Smart Home.
Our customer’s consumers are already familiar with the user interface or the middleware running on their STBs, so operating and running a Smart Home directly from it should be seen as a natural extension, that would make their lives easier by having all smart features accessible with a single press of the remote control.
Let’s take WeTek as the starting point, where the devices run on Google’s Android TV and interact with IoT things, which are a part of the smart home ecosystem, bringing a good dose of fun allied to the simplicity of it all. Using the built-in Google Voice Assistant, you could simply say:
“Ok Google, turn off the lights” and this intent will be processed as a command in order to turn off all your smart lights or light switches.
Of course, voice commands can be more specific, such as “Ok Google turn off the ceiling lights”, where the ceiling is designated as a group of lights or light switches that either control or are located at the ceiling of your living room or bedroom.
To achieve all of this, we had to create a smart home solution, which we call WeThings.
WeThings is not only able to interact with any voice assistant, but it also allows users to operate their smart home and smart things through an application, directly accessible from the TV screen or smartphone.
As a platform, WeThings takes care of your IoT network, which in our case is a Zigbee or OpenThread network directly connected to a multitude of smart devices, from light bulbs, light switches, doors, windows, and PIR to air quality sensors or thermostats.
Tough times for all kinds of operators
Telcos and Cable operators are challenged every day with new threats, like OTT platforms that are gaining ground and aiming at their customer base. Although these incumbents are getting some sort of relief with the slow introduction of 5G networks, they still have to fight if they want to keep their customers.
Infrastructure ownership and an already established customer base, which in turn is already subscribed to some of their services, are the two major factors that should be taken advantage of. This will enable them to offer IoT or smart home solutions bundled to an existing contract.
At first glance, there could be some issues like customer broadband access speeds, house typology, regulatory environment, privacy data and so forth, but when you think about it, these are minor hurdles. When customers agree to a contract with an operator, they can give access to everything the operator needs to have the system working in full force. Moreover, the benefits would very much surpass any kind of privacy violation, which is way below intrusion levels. Broadband speed is also an increasingly minor problem, as operators may provide the desired standards through their services, and in the near future, 5G will become as common as any other connection available now.
Getting back to the proposition at hand, in order to secure contract extensions from their existing customers or, in other words, to deploy a sort of lock-in strategy for the next 12 to 24 months, they have to offer an added value proposition in order to satisfy both sides. Besides convincing the top management, it is also needed to convince the customer paying for the service.
With that being said, when deploying their own IoT solution, the customers will enjoy multiple benefits, such as controlling electricity costs, gas or water bills, while at the same time improving their quality of life. Imagine the possibility of sending a monthly report with every bill, stating how much money the operator helped the customer save.
On a lighter note, but nonetheless curious, is the fact that, at this stage, people are able to remotely control any kind of smart appliances in their homes, such as leaving the office and turning on the AC at home, so that when they arrive, their homes are a bit colder or warmer depending on the given setting.
User satisfaction increases, because the customers are able to control gadgets and eventually understand their communication patterns while optimizing electricity consumption. As the market matures and reaches its full potential, it’s expected that existing services and devices, such as home security, automation or energy management will grow even further, getting more traction from customers.
But how can an Operator improve its reputation and retain customers in a scenario where brands are less valuable by the day? This is pretty much the answer, as it will give them a weapon to improve their perceived value at the same time they open additional revenue streams from big data collection.