When it comes to smart buildings and homes, security remains key. Wireless standards in particular must provide state-of-the-art protection to gain the trust of the end user. More and more companies such as Panasonic, Huawei, and VTech are developing their latest products based on the open standard Ultra-Low Energy (ULE). ULE-solutions are deemed to make buildings and homes not only smarter but also more secure.
Despite positive predictions by analysts and experts, the building automation and smart home market has yet to achieve its full potential. According to Avi Barel from the ULE Alliance, one of the main reasons for the slower than expected growth rates is that many manufacturers continue to ignore the needs and demands of their customers by offering proprietary systems that often lack of state-of-the-art security. “Most of the solutions that are currently available are not particularly secure, too expensive or difficult to use and install,” says Barel. “Many vendors also only offer solutions which don’t allow the customer to integrate products from other manufacturers, which means that the user is restricted to the often limited product portfolio of one company - but that’s not what the customer wants.”
More than 30 ULE products have already been certified
Last year, the non-profit organisation ULE Alliance launched a certification programme for products that use the Ultra-Low Energy standard. More than 30 devices have already been certified, including products such as motion, smoke, gas, and flood detectors from Panasonic, Huawei and VTech. By 2017, over 100 certified products will be available. According to the ULE Alliance, the certification programme ensures perfect security as well as interoperability of devices from different manufacturers. Even companies who didn’t offer products for the smart home in the past - such as Gigaset and the FRITZ!Box manufacturer AVM - have recently developed ULE-based devices. These products haven’t been certified yet, but it is likely that this will happen at some point in the future.
Safest wireless standard is available across the world
Experts consider ULE to be the safest wireless standard for smart buildings and homes. The standard is based on DECT frequencies which previously had been used solely for cordless telephones. As a result, ULE is available in every country and region in which DECT has been enabled, including Europe, the Americas, Japan, Korea, and South East Asia. In India and China, the DECT spectrum is currently been negotiated.
As ULE takes advantage of the protected frequency band from 1,890 to 1,900 MHz, which is exclusively reserved for DECT, interferences with other products - such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee and Bluetooth devices or even microwaves - can be ruled out. ULE uses AES-CCM for encryption and packet authentication (based on AES 128). The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for electronic data has been established by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. All communication is encrypted using AES-CCM and there is no option to switch off the encryption.
By covering distances of up to 70 metres within buildings and up to 600 metres outdoors, ULE has a bigger range compared to other wireless standards, whilst the short latency ensures real-time communication between ULE products and a DECT/ULE base station. Within a few milliseconds, the transport layer of ULE can setup a connection to the actuator, send a control signal and cut the connection again. Hundreds of actuators and sensors can be combined to one network. Existing DECT gateways such as base stations and routers can be upgraded - often free of charge - if the manufacturer offers an adequate software update.
2-way-communication allows voice control and real-time announcements
Unlike most wireless standards, ULE supports the transmission of data and video as well as voice. The stable transmission of voice in HD allows 2-way-communication, for example the control of systems and single devices by spoken commands, but also helpful real-time announcements via the entire network such as “Fire in the hallway, please leave the building via the fire exit”.
Another advantage of ULE-based building automation and smart home solutions is the low consumption as only a few microamperes are needed to keep a smoke detector working. With ULE, batteries for devices such as smoke and heat detectors or thermostats for radiators last more than 10 years.
“Smart solutions have to become more secure, user-friendly, and affordable”
“To enable a widespread use of smart products for buildings and homes, it is crucial that the solutions become more secure, user-friendly, and also affordable,” says Avi Barel. “Users do not only face the cost of having to purchase new products, but also the cost of installation and maintenance. That includes further expansions of the network. It is understandable that users don’t want to be restricted to a limited yet expensive product range from one company,” Barel points out. “It must be easy for the customer to setup and expand his network without too much hassle and without having to consult an expert every single time a new product needs to be integrated.”
DECT World Conference
At the 20th anniversary of the DECTWorld Conference, to be held on May 31 and June 1 in Barcelona, companies like Panasonic, RWE and Allianz will present their latest innovations and talk about how DECT/ULE technology is changing the market.