The UK market has moved from ideas to reality

Posted by: nyoung Categories: Blog

Earlier this week, Trilliant participated in the SSWG and Zigbee alliance interoperability event, in Westminster, to demonstrate that the HAN technology needed to deploy smart meters in the UK is keeping pace with the legislative requirements of the proposed smart meter rollout.  It was great to see the vendor community working together to showcase that the market has moved on significantly from where it was even a year ago.  The event was aimed at key stakeholders in government and the energy supply business, showing that interoperability enables choice and will allow projects to get off the ground rapidly.  The bespoke integration of components in the smart meter environment is no longer a barrier to adoption.

The event demonstrated that the UK market has genuinely moved from ideas and specifications to technical and commercial reality.  Any doubts raised in the past have been firmly blown away – the technology that forms the basis of smart metering in UK homes works, and from this point on will develop, grow and evolve with the market.

The UK market is seeing significant activity – British Gas are rolling out smart meters to millions of homes, and the other energy retailers are following closely behind.

However, the market still has some way to go before we can claim that the technology is ready for plug and play and horizontal adoption in the home.  Zigbee SEP 1.1 allows interoperability to be taken to heart by the wide variety of vendors in the market.  But there are some steps needed to ensure that a HAN rollout is a pain free experience for consumers and energy retailers alike.  The good thing about the Zigbee specification is that it recognises this and will continue to evolve.

  • Ecosystem development – there are still only a relatively few number of in-home vendors in the market.  For the Zigbee HAN to truly be ubiquitous, there needs to be commitment from other service providers who would benefit from the use of the HAN.  In the energy world, further meter providers and energy service providers need to bring their products into the Zigbee fold.  Outside of the energy world, appliance manufacturers and other in-home service providers such as security and healthcare need to take advantage and build interoperable in-home products that allow new revenue models and value to be built for the homeowner.
  • Channels to market – currently the energy retailers are providing the only channel to market for HAN technology in the home, via the smart meter rollout.  However, its not difficult to foresee that the HAN does not have to be tied to energy services in the future, and can be driven by any service provider willing to provide the technology.  with enough service providers and benefits on board, it is likely that the consumer themselves will want to invest in a Zigbee HAN, rather than waiting for the smart meter rollout to reach them.
  • Cost Reduction – Of course, HAN technologies follow the technology adoption curve, just like any other technology.  Today we are at the beginning of that curve, and so the required components are expensive to procure, and the skills needed to integrate them sparse on the ground.  However, as the market progresses, cost of these components will come down, meaning that ubiquitous HAN components will be available in volume.
  • Genuine plug and play – Most consumers want equipment they buy to just work.  HAN technology is still some way from that ideal, with consumer equipment tied to individual providers and required a complex setup in some cases.   This is largely to ensure that an element of control is maintained, and that security processes are not breached.  However, for the consumer to buy-in extensively to HAN services, the components will need to ‘just work’ out of the box.  This is a challenge that is not insurmountable, but keeping the network secure and available requires a large amount of effort to ensure HAN specifications are allowed to evolve and meet the needs of consumers over time
  • Merger of HAN profiles.  Today, there are several different profiles for Zigbee HAN profiles – energy, home automation, healthcare etc.  This model works right now as it allows each community to focus on what they need in order to offer a service.   However, in the future there is likely to be significant overlap between many of these profiles, and so the creation of a central core to which any vertical service can apply itself is a sensible way to proceed and allow single HAN systems to be widely deployed.

Today, the market for HAN has taken a significant step forwards in the UK.  But to ensure that product is fit for consumer use, there are still a number of hurdles to get over.  However, the industry has demonstrated that it is willing to work together through standards bodies such as the SSWG and the Zigbee alliance to create a single ecosystem appropriate for rollout to every UK home.  And by working together, we will be able to continue the turning of ideas into the reality of a rich in-home experience for all.