Networking technologies such as superfast broadband and wi-fi mean that more of the devices we use are connected to the internet than ever before. And as well as allowing us to communicate with friends and family, many of the devices communicate with each other to create what’s been dubbed the ‘connected home’ or ‘smart home’.
These devices communicate with each other on your home network or via Bluetooth, doing things like sharing information, transferring files and digital media and providing remote access and control for domestic appliances.
Many connected home devices such as heating, lighting and security systems can be controlled remotely by a smartphone, tablet or computer, typically via an app.
It’s becoming easier to connect an entire home too: broadband is faster, more reliable and more affordable than ever before and the improved signal range of wi-fi routers means that a single router can offer wi-fi coverage across more rooms in our homes, allowing more devices to be connected.
What's more, low-priced networking equipment has made it cheaper to extend home networks into rooms that were difficult to cover using just a single wi-fi router. This means that even previously difficult properties, such as older homes with thick walls, can now benefit from a home network that covers the entire property.
What kind of connected home devices are there?
The most common connected devices are computers, games consoles and Smart TVs, but over the last few years the number and type of connected devices has expanded to include connected heating systems, lights, kettles, vacuum cleaners, scales and security cameras, such as the BT Smart Home Cam 100.
Collectively, these devices are part of the Internet of Things.
What are the advantages of a connected home?
Connected homes can give you access to data no matter where you are in the house – for instance, your photos may be stores on your computer in the study, but you can view them on a Smart TV in your lounge or on your tablet in the bedroom.
Alternatively, you might want to stream video that you shot on your phone to your laptop so you can view it on a bigger screen.
Many connected home devices can also be controlled remotely. Connected heating systems such as Nest’s Protect or British Gas’s Hive allow you to turn your heating on and off remotely using a phone, so if you get back home late one night you don’t waste money heating your house while you are away.
A security camera like the BT Smart Home Cam 100 lets you keep an eye on your home wherever you are in the world as long as you’ve got an internet connection. Open the smartphone app and stream video live from your house.
Connected home devices can also work together. Nest’s system includes a thermostat and the Nest Protect smoke/carbon monoxide detector, and if the latter detects a carbon monoxide leak, it will communicate with the thermostat to turn the heating off.
America is slightly ahead of the UK in terms of connected-home technology, Amazon Echo, an internet-connected hub that works with Alexa, a cloud-based voice system that can respond to voice commands.
Echo and Alexa work with smart home gadgets made by other companies. Using their voice, Ford owners can lock/unlock their car doors, Philips Hue users can dim their home lights or Nest owners can adjust the thermostat temperature.
What type of equipment do I need to make my house a connected home?
At the heart of a connected home is a superfast broadband connection, such as BT broadband or BT Infinity.
In order to be able to access devices throughout the house – for instance a console in a bedroom – you’ll need a reliable home network that extends into multiple rooms.
Wi-fi extender/hotspots such as the BT Mini Hub (£69.99) are adapters that can be used to extend your wi-fi network into rooms that otherwise have poor wi-fi reception.
Plugging into a spare power socket, it includes powerline technology which use your home's electrical wiring to extend your signal, so you can have an extra Ethernet or wireless hotspot
Because connected gadgets are a relatively new trend, not every device can be used in this way. They are also more expensive than non-connected devices, for instance the iKettle is over £124, while a standard kettle is £16.