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.
Connected homes are getting easier to create
It’s becoming easier to connect an entire home too. Broadband is faster, more reliable and more affordable than ever before. The improved signal range of Wi-Fi routers means that a single router can offer wireless 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. 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.
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 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.
Smart security cameras let 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 to see who’s home, and even talk to them.
Will my smart devices connect to each other?
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.
One of the most popular new phenomena is smart speakers or ‘assistants’ that respond to voice commands. Amazon Echo lets you speak to Alexa and while Google Home’s housekeeper has no name, she too will do your bidding.
Alexa and Google Home also 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.
All is not lost, though, because a free service called If This, Then That (IFTTT) allows you to set up automated rules that combine smart devices from with apps and information, like weather reports or your phone’s location. IFTTT works even if devices aren’t designed to work together: your smart heating can switch on when you leave the office; or switch off if there’s an open window.
What type of equipment do I need to make my house a connected home?
In order to connect your devices throughout the house – for instance a games console in a bedroom – you’ll need a reliable home network that extends into multiple rooms.
They work in different ways, either by boosting and repeating your Wi-Fi signal or through Powerline technology using your home's electrical wiring to place an Ethernet point or Wi-Fi hotspot where you need it.
Connected gadgets are a relatively new trend, so not every device can be used in this way and they are also more expensive than non-connected devices. For instance, the iKettle is around £100 while a standard kettle costs less than £6.