Wireless a catalyst for 'Internet of things'

Brace yourself for automation everywhere

By 2020, 50 billion devices will connect to wireless networks, say some experts. But not all those devices will have human beings interacting directly with them.

We're entering the machine-to-machine age. Researcher Berg Insight estimates that cellular network connections worldwide used for M2M communication will grow from 81.3 million connections in 2010 to 294 million connections in 2015, a CAGR of 32%.

Sensors and smart meters can use wireless (or wired) networks to monitor, gather information, and relay it to some remote application, which can trigger some kind of event that might involve humans or not. Many of these applications are already at work, particularly in smart homes and buildings.

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Heck, Comcast already offers an Xfinity Home Security service for surveillance over cable with a cellular backup.

And recently, chipmaker Atheros announced a HomePlug Green PHY (HPGP) emulation development kit upon which others in the network ecosystem could build smart home, security, building automation, energy-management, remote health and other applications for home appliances, thermostats, electricity meters, plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) and monitoring equipment.

HPGP is a subset standard of the HomePlug AV powerline standard, for which Atheros announced a hybrid powerline, Ethernet and Wi-Fi reference design last October. HPGP enables low-power, low-energy connections while supporting up to 10Mbps IP data rates, and products are expected next year.

Tim Colleran, director of smart home and building at Atheros, said Atheros would be also looking at delivering a lower-energy, low-resource Wi-Fi kit later this year.

He expects to see microwave ovens that ping your cellphone if the oven door hasn't been opened for some number of minutes after shutting off. The TV remote control could become part of an IP infrastructure, too, getting embedded in your smartphone.

The possibilities for Automation with a capital "A" are endless. In addition to the potential withering of the human brain, they open a number of potential security issues, particularly as they pertain to energy management and the smart grid. These could range from someone breaking into the grid and starting up a number of machines to cause an outage to thieves monitoring home energy usage levels to determine when there is no one is at home.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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