5G — or the fifth generation of wireless technology — is here. Whether it lives up to the hype is yet to be determined, especially within the home automation industry.
All four major U.S. carriers have flipped the switch on 5G, but only in select cities. Existing data primarily hinges on smartphones at this point — what’s far less certain is how 5G will impact society on a broader scale. The technology, we’ve been told, has the potential to make cities “smart” and provide the network infrastructure for self-driving cars.
5G is going to change consumer behavior, but how that manifests in the smart home depends on a lot of factors — including more than a couple hurdles (and years).
Faster, more bandwidth
5G certainly has the potential to decrease the latency and increase the speed of wireless connections. A typical home network connection today it is 10 to 100 times less responsive than what 5G is projected to deliver. That might make wireless protocols like Zigbee and Z-Wave look like snails next to 5G, which could create even more streamlined experiences in the home.
Here’s another area where we’re likely to see more 5G: edge computing. Because of its bandwidth capabilities, 5G facilitates much faster information transfers between individual devices. In fact, 5G might actually be just one step closer to eradicating the cloud. In Verizon’s words, today’s cloud is “too far away to deliver seamless digital experiences.” But 5G can enable cars to share massive amounts of data with other cars and infrastructure in real time — a feature needed for autonomous cars to effectively communicate.
Not only would a 5G network be able to handle far more devices in the home, smart device setup and further control would also be easier. 5G will allow transitions between cellular and WiFi connections to be more seamless, and latency rates will drop to one millisecond from 50 on a 4G LTE network. This could mean faster, clearer updates from your home security camera’s real-time video feeds while you’re on vacation (and, in turn, faster communication with authorities if you find an intruder).
The hold on 5G in smart homes
Along with its projected infiltration into cities, cars, health care, wearables, and phones — 5G in smart homes seems just as probable, but the current structure of the smart home and device-to-device communication may remain relatively divorced from the equation. Some experts say there just isn’t a need yet.
Mitchell Klein, director of the Z-Wave Alliance, doesn’t seem that worried. In fact, Klein says communication speeds and bandwidth are not issues for smart home ecosystems.
“I would say it’s unlikely we’re going to see a whole lot of 5G within the ecosystems in the home, but I do think we will see 5G on the edge. But that’s more likely going to be from an interoperable perspective — it’s unlikely we’ll start seeing sensors and security panels and other devices replacing what have become very cost-effective and efficient platforms, like Zigbee and Z-Wave.”
Director, Z-Wave Alliance
Klein also says there’s a push within phone companies to drive sales, and that the hype around 5G helps. “The phone companies really want it [5G] because it helps you sell more phones,” he says. “In some ways, it’s almost like the technology is there to help drive the business that is not necessarily needing it. We’ll see, I guess.”
What we could see within the smart home industry sooner rather than later, however, is a push for greater competition. A report from GlobalData released earlier this year predicted 5G would welcome a wave of carriers creating their own smart home platforms to compete with those from Google and Amazon.
We’re already seeing cellular providers deepening their reach into the smart home. Take Samsung’s latest smart home developments, for example. Samsung’s SmartThings’ newest camera, WiFi plug, and lightbulb aren’t exactly revolutionary, but they are decidedly more affordable, which could potentially give competitors a run for their money. (Google Nest Cams ring in at about $200, whereas Samsung’s SmartThings Cam is $90.)
There are a lot of questions left to be answered in the security sector as well. The European Union — which has enacted strict regulations on data-sharing consent — is investigating cybersecurity risks associated with 5G. Researchers have found that 5G networks have improved security-wise when compared to their 3G and 4G predecessors, but they aren’t perfect. Greater points of connectivity could also mean more opportunities for hacking.
The bottom line
In order to welcome 5G into your smart home, you’ll have to replace one of the most essential elements to your smart home: your smartphone. And 5G phones, like the Galaxy S10+, cost well over $1,000 right now. It could take several years before 5G fully replaces 4G, especially in rural areas, let alone become an integral part of radios and smart hubs to power home automation functions. This means you might also hit your monthly data cap in a shorter amount of time, especially with fewer 5G towers.
We’re nowhere near a full adoption period for either 5G or smart homes, so a blend of the two seems even more unlikely for the near future. For now, we’ll have to wait and see how it all unfolds, and we plan to update you with developments as we see them.