From digital assistants to smart appliances, consumers are slowly adapting to connected home technologies. These networked devices deliver efficiency and ease of use with the help of sensitive antennas.
By TE Connectivity connected home
Consumers have come around to the idea of a connected home. Smart TVs, thermostats, smoke detectors, and security cameras have become mainstream choices, along with digital assistants that respond to voice commands or programming via phone apps. The idea of a home hub, managed over wireless networks with a smartphone or voice command, is expanding as more uniquely identified interconnected devices join the Internet of Things. Smart devices provide entertainment, safety and security, climate control, and convenience through automation facilitated through data management and direct consumer input. They save consumers time, provide enhanced functionality, and potentially reduce energy costs. The smart appliance market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 17% per year from 2021 to 2027.
The pace of adoption of connected home technologies has been hampered by challenges surrounding ease of use, installation, and inconsistencies created by the various competing communication standards and networking protocols. The smart home ecosystem is still fragmented and competitive, but consumers are realizing its benefits. In 2020, the pace of adoption accelerated as consumers brought connected technologies into their homes for work or education. On average, consumers bought two new smart devices since March 2020 in response to being home more during the pandemic; for Gen Z consumers, it was an average of three.
Smart connectivity is just a starting point. Connectivity enables the sharing of information and the ability to monitor and control. As artificial intelligence matures and proliferates, devices will leverage complicated analysis in the cloud to deliver actionable insights back to users and systems within the connected home. Automation will eventually make routine tasks or chores easier and perhaps invisible. As new value propositions are shaped, we expect to see simplification, increased efficiencies (saving both time and money), and a level of service beyond what can be delivered today.
Machine-to-machine communications that utilize low-powered networks such as UWB, WLAN, Zigbee, or Bluetooth to transmit data are facilitating IoT adoption by consumers. The arrival of LPWANs like NB-IoT, LTE Cat-M, and 5G are delivering high-efficiency data transmission that will bring further growth. While 3G and 4G networks facilitated wireless communications among people, 5G allows for the greater connection among devices, which has spurred the development of a new array of sophisticated IoT solutions for a range of industrial and environmental concerns.
IoT growth has also been facilitated by the strength of other technological advancements. For example, fiber optic cable has paved the way by offering greater bandwidth that allows for multiple wireless channels to run data over high-speed 5G networks and ensure uninterrupted transmission. Cloud-based technologies are also impacting connectivity dynamics as greater utilization of cloud-like concepts are applied to both radio access and core networks. We see this occurring with C-RAN, the fast-growing global cloud radio access network, which is focused on the adoption of cloud technologies.
While these are two different technologies, they share a common dominator: They both demand high-speed, high-data, high-density, and reliable and rugged connectivity solutions to support IoT ecosystems.
Enter antennas. Antennas are critical to transmitting and receiving radio frequencies and, along with filters and power amplifiers, must work adeptly with fiber optic and cloud-based technologies. They must also enable near-limitless wireless connectivity between devices and databases, while simultaneously handling high-power signals and operating within stringent thermal conditions. These functionalities are all critical to the development of an IoT application and its performance in a smart environment.
As IoT ecosystems evolve to support high-density, low-latency networks and continue to incorporate various new features into radios and overall system layouts, antenna system design becomes even more critical. As a result, rather than view antennas as passive products — whether they are external or embedded — engineers need to treat them as integral solutions in the creation of IoT applications.
Multiple antennas are now working with 5G networks and supporting IoT applications. Active antenna systems are commonly adopted to increase the capacity and coverage of radio streams. These antennas also feature a tighter integration of radio frequency (RF) electronics with a massive-element antenna to enable miniaturization and boost efficiency.
Advanced antenna systems are an array of antennas closely integrated with hardware and software components to handle increased system complexities, ranging from greater steerability for adapting antenna radiation patterns to rapidly time-varying traffic and multi-path radio transmission conditions. Simply put, more antennas translate into faster data transfer, which is the lifeblood of the IoT.
The complexities of antenna system design and the availability of more frequency bands afforded by 5G have made choosing an antenna for a smart device challenging. System designs cannot rely on plug-and-play options. Instead, these designs require a holistic assessment of all connectivity requirements. In a variety of IoT applications, antenna solutions will need to be customized to include two to 12 antenna products inside a device that’s often the size of a mobile phone. These antennas must also manage different redundancies and services while working clearly and independently from one another, which requires design engineers to isolate all of the antennas within a system design.
There is another critical issue to consider as well: Antennas destined for IoT applications must be designed to operate on secure networks. While there are a range of antennas that can be used for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS applications, there is increasing reliance on cellular antennas that offer the critical features needed for IoT success. Cellular antennas effectively meet this requirement.
Designing in the right antenna, connector, switch, relay, or sensor for an IoT-enabled, connected home device and its application is key to ensuring reliability and functionality. A rapidly expanding selection of connectivity solutions, including active and advanced antennas, is available to help support your design goals, and today’s solution providers have the tools and expertise to help you make a sound selection. The goal is to help designers make these important decisions early in the product development process, when design optimization is most important.