If you're wondering how the much-discussed internet of things will actually affect your everyday life, one simple answer would be smart tech.
And this doesn't only mean sophisticated systems implemented by big business and governments to improve national infrastructure and drive data production, as the 'smart home' phenomenon is also on the way for our households.
Explaining more about the trend, and how the multi-vendor QIVICON alliance is helping to shape it, Head of Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom Holger, Holger Knöpke answers our questions.
TechRadar Pro: So what do we need smart home products for?
Holger Knöpke: Can you imagine a world in ten years where your car is not smart? I can't. Along the same lines, I also cannot imagine a world in which your home is not smart. The benefits in terms of energy savings, more security and convenience are just incredible.
It will be a while before smart home offerings come into their own, and now, no obstacles stand in the way of a smart home breakthrough. There is, for one, the increasing prevalence of smartphones and tablets, and high availability of broadband Internet connections.
For another, the prices of smart home products are falling continuously. Many other factors also play a role. Take, for example, the "energy revolution" that is making consumers think more and more about how they can save energy.
Further, demographic changes are a factor: with an ageing population, more and more older people would like to lead independent lives in their own homes for longer. Here too, smart home products can be a great help.
TRP: How large is the smart home market?
HK: By 2017, Deloitte predicts that smart home solutions will generate European revenues of more than £3.25 billion, while Berg Insight anticipates that the smart home market in North America will grow by 42 per cent to a volume of £5.6 billion.
TRP: How does the QIVICON platform differ from other offerings for the connected home?
HK: The smart home market is characterised by many solutions that are not compatible with each other. If a user buys one provider's smart home product he can only, as matters stand, use its functions and solutions and not those of other manufacturers.
Our approach is radically different. We have developed a technical platform that is open, multi-vendor and on which any company can offer solutions, regardless of the industry to which it belongs. We currently have 33 partner companies. By the end of the year there will be about 50.
So QIVICON is already the smart home platform with the world's largest number of partner companies. The result of this variety is a unique pick-and-mix smart home. QIVICON will revolutionize the smart home. For this innovative approach and its technical implementation QIVICON has already won several awards and we are increasingly seen as the innovation leader in this field.
TRP: Could you explain this with an example?
HK: QIVICON is both a B-to-B product and a product for end consumers, so it's B-to-B-to-C. An example? Some Smart Home solutions only enable the user to manage one application, such as lighting or heating.
With QIVICON, in contrast, you can connect the entire home. You can combine your central heating, electrical appliances, windows, blinds – whatever you like – it can be done.
So QIVICON adds an entirely new dimension to the Smart Home: easy-to-use management for an unlimited variety of Smart Home solutions. QIVICON is a uniform basis for total home control that combines partner companies' products.
Consumers using the QIVICON Smart Home platform will find more and more solutions that they can control simply and comfortably via the QIVICON home base.
Users can combine several solutions by installing one or more partner company's apps on a smartphone, tablet or PC. Some apps have a specific focus on, say, central heating control. Others facilitate comprehensive home control over just about all possible functions in a single app.
TRP: What part do partners play?
HK: QIVICON is all about partnering. We have by far the greatest number of partners of any smart home initiative. The more partners that offer QIVICON-compatible products on the platform and the greater the variety of the products they offer, the more attractive the platform will be for end customers.
Partners benefit in many ways from the openness of the platform, such as from greater efficiency in developing new products and use cases or from lower installation and running costs.
We not only have the most partners; we also have many strong brands such as EnBW, Belkin, Samsung, Miele, Kärcher, Vattenfall and Allianz – the world's largest insurance company. Companies can become partners by contacting us.
Any company, from large company to start-up, can become a partner. To simplify the process we have developed a special partner programme that includes business models customised for the partners.
TRP: Can competing partners exist on the QIVICON platform?
HK: Yes, and they characterise the QIVICON approach. Membership of the QIVICON alliance offers all partners an opportunity to jointly shape the smart home market of the future while still setting themselves apart from each other by means of their own products, pricing models, communication and sales and installation channels.
TRP: Why will a platform prevail in the smart home market?
HK: Platforms will always prevail in the IT industry. Just look at the PC and the smartphone market. Platforms provide significant advantages because they offer end customers and companies alike a clear added value in terms of innovation cycles, product and use case variety and economies of scale.
It is against this background that smart home platforms will make the running in the market. That is borne out by the findings of a B2B study commissioned by Bitkom, the German Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media.
31 per cent of companies said they were aware of or interested in Smart Home platforms and 22 per cent are members of platform alliances already. Surveys also show that end customers are keen to combine many solutions such as energy management, lighting control or security, that is something only a platform can offer.
TRP: Are there any plans to internationalise QIVICON?
HK: The QIVICON platform currently exists in Germany, but we receive many international enquiries. Many companies find the German smart home market highly promising and are interested in becoming a partner in order to open up the German market by having their products available on the platform.
But we are also negotiating with interested parties to offer the QIVICON platform and partner products internationally. The main focus of internationalisation will be in Europe, but we also see promising prospects outside of the EU.
As QIVICON depends on cooperation with partner companies we are ready to hold talks with any interested party and we are delighted with every new partnership. To keep this process as simple as possible we have developed a special partner programme. It includes the right business model for both large companies and small start-ups.
TRP: How does QIVICON work?
HK: Via the QIVICON Home Base, the smart home's central control unit, any compatible branded smart home product from QIVICON partner companies can be connected wirelessly using optimised smart home wireless protocols and then hooked up via the internet using partner companies' apps.
Any QIVICON-compatible devices, such as radiator thermostats, smoke detectors, blinds, lamps and household appliances, can be controlled. Consumers who buy a product from a partner company together with the QIVICON Home Base can add more.
QIVICON supports HomeMatic (868 MHz) and ZigBee (2.4 GHz) wireless technology. In the months to come we will be adding many more devices including LEDs, IP cameras and multimedia devices. QIVICON will then be able to communicate with more than 100 home automation devices and home appliances.
TRP: Is smart home for newbuilds only or can it be incorporated in older buildings too?
HK: In principle there is no need for any great distinction. QIVICON is a wireless-based solution that is easy to install and can be expanded. If you move home you can simply take QIVICON and the compatible partner products with you.
TRP: How much does the customer pay?
HK: QIVICON starter kits cost from 269 euros [£213, $362] in Germany. Partners can charge monthly or one-off fees, for example. In combination with different packages of equipment and apps there will be a suitable offer for each customer segment.
- Holger Knöpke is Head of Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom. Prior to that he was a Senior Vice President of Product Design & Provisioning at T-Mobile International.
* Bitkom Smart Home Study 2012, © Dr. Bernd Kotschi