A step by step guide to creating the digital connected home

The concept of the “connected home” is all the buzz in the technology space, and there are a growing number of different products that incorporate connectivity.

August 29, 2012

By Zandré Rudolph, Retail Business Unit Manager at Drive Control Corporation

The concept of the “connected home” is all the buzz in the technology space, and there are a growing number of different products that incorporate connectivity. From home entertainment to streaming audio and video, to mobile phones, tablets and networked storage, and even home appliances, light fixtures and heating – the possibilities for the connected home are endless. For many people, the problem is knowing where to start, what products they need and how to go about creating the network they want to suit their requirements now and in the future. However, creating the connected home is not as complicated as it first appears. This step by step guide will help you make the most of your technologies and embrace the possibilities of a digital, connected home.

Step 1: The connection

The first step in creating the connected home is obviously the connection. One thing that all ‘smart’ technologies have in common is their use of Internet connectivity to communicate, so this step is a critical foundation. South Africa has traditionally been very expensive in terms of bandwidth and connectivity, but this is no longer necessarily true. The number of users has grown exponentially and prices have come down dramatically in the past few years.

When it comes to choosing a connection, there are several available options. These include ADSL, 3G and other wireless connectivity, and even satellite, each with its own pros and cons. Satellite is currently the fastest method, but this speed comes at a price. Wireless connectivity offers the ability to take your connection anywhere, but data costs tend to be fairly high and are often not viable for large downloads or always on connectivity. ADSL offers a balance of speed and price, and there are many options available, from uncapped to high speed and everything in between.

The choice of connection comes down to your needs as well as your budget. You need to consider what you want to do with your connected home. Do you simply want a network that can be shared by multiple users throughout the home, or do you want to be able to stream video and music live? Do you want to download large amounts of data, but do not necessarily need super fast speeds to do this? Once you have decided what you want to do in your connected home, you can approach service providers and shop around for the best deal that gives you the optimal balance of speed and price.

Step 2: Setting up the network

Once you are connected, you need a router. The router is vital for creating a network that will provide access to the Internet throughout the house. Wireless is the cheapest and easiest route to go in terms of a network, since for most homes creating a wired network would involve digging up floors to lay cable. However wireless can prove problematic in multi-story homes or homes with complex layouts, as the range often does not penetrate through floors, around corners and through multiple walls.

In these instances repeaters and range boosters can be used, but this does not solve the problem of interference, which wireless networks can also be subject to. Ethernet over Power (EoP) adaptors offer a highly cost effective solution. Using existing power lines and outlets, EoP devices can simply be plugged into sockets and connected devices can be hard wired to these devices for a stable connection. Using a combination of wireless router, repeaters and EoP, a complete network can be created throughout the house that caters for both wireless devices such as tablets and smartphones, and devices that can used a wired network, such as televisions, desktop computers, set top boxes and so on.

Step 3: Selecting your connected devices

Many of today’s gadgets rely on connectivity to function, including smartphones and tablet PCs. Making the most of the connected home means incorporating these devices, along with smart televisions that can access the Internet directly, media players and so on, to create a complete, smart, connected home entertainment centre and network.

Devices such as set top boxes, which provide satellite programming, gaming consoles, hubs, media centres and so on can all be connected using your network to bring entertainment to every corner of the home. Tablets in the kitchen can be used to search for and view recipes and cooking demonstrations, televisions can stream content from media servers, and any number of devices can connect and download content.

Step 4: Adding storage

Connectivity may be the heart of the connected home, but storage is just as important in the digital age, where digital content generation has exploded. From social media to downloads, music, movies, photographs and more, everything has turned into data, and in order to share and stream this throughout the connected home, you need centralised, networked storage.

While certain media servers will include storage, this is often not enough for entire families, and because of the nature of the data backup is always advantageous. Using networked storage with the capability to create a private cloud enables you to save and store content on a centralised server and access it from anywhere in the world. This also allows for storage to be expanded to meet growing needs, as photographs are only getting bigger and HD videos and music take up more storage than ever.

Step 5: Creating the digital experience

The connected home is all about creating a digital experience where everyone in the house has access to content regardless of the device they use, supporting sharing and collaboration. It is an extension of our digital lifestyle, driven by content and connection, and is the next step in the evolution of the truly smart home. More and more devices are beginning to incorporate connectivity and intelligence, from fridges to washing machines and other appliances, even lights that can be remotely switched on. The smart home is the future, but at the heart of this entire evolution lies connectivity. Without connectivity, the connected home is not possible, and without sufficient storage space for all the required programs and applications, the connected home cannot evolve into a smart home.