How 5G Will Make Your Home Smarter

With more strain being put on home Wi-Fi networks than ever before, how can the enhanced mobile connectivity of 5G benefit us at home as well as out and about?

Key Takeaways

  • Limits of local Wi-Fi networks and mismatched hardware connection protocols are currently preventing smart home technology from reaching its full potential.

  • Speed, capacity, low-latency and ubiquity of 5G can address these issues and improve everything from security to general performance of smart home devices.

  • Improved connectivity will also enable new experiences using AR, VR and telepresence devices, which could be particularly important in a post-coronavirus world.

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A lot of people think of 5G as being a mobile technology; something that’ll benefit our smartphones, laptops and wearable devices most – but as coverage of the network proliferates, 5G is destined to transform the tech in our homes as well.

“5G’s ability to provide a low-power wide-area network makes it ideal for running smart home products that require constant, reliable connectivity”

Our houses are already full of connected devices. Not including phones, tablets and computers, your TV or set-top box probably uses the internet, the smart speaker in the kitchen relies on it to do pretty much everything, and your smart thermostat loses all of its brains if the Wi-Fi stops working. This already puts considerable strain on the home network, particularly when multiple people are also trying to use it at once, and with the number of connected devices on the rise, the problem is only going to get worse.

For smart home devices, a patchy or unreliable connection can cause real issues, both with general operation and the user’s perceived effectiveness of the product. If their voice-activated lights don’t work at the first time of asking and they’re left standing in the dark, people will quickly be put off by their supposedly futuristic new gadgets. Could 5G be the answer and help to speed up adoption?

Current smart home products rely on a mish-mash of connectivity standards to communicate, but all ultimately require a connection to your home network. However, there’s only so much that can be done to improve the range and speed of your Wi-Fi, particularly when the router needs to be placed near a phone socket. Floors, walls, and doors can be detrimental to the performance of your network, but if you want to keep your roof up those aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Other wireless signals competing for bandwidth can also slow things down.

Increasing the maximum speed and capacity of the network can only do so much, particularly in areas where broadband speeds are poor in the first place, but 5G’s ability to provide a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) makes it ideal for running smart home products that require constant, reliable connectivity. 5G’s greater capacity will also mean far more devices can be connected than a local network would allow, plus it also means households don’t have to rely on existing wired infrastructure, which is expensive and inconvenient to upgrade, particularly in rural areas.

A single, unified wireless standard will also help to address one of the biggest issues with current devices: the lack of interoperability. If all devices use the same protocol to communicate, interaction between them will improve, which has an overall benefit for the smart home ecosystem. 

But what other kind of benefits will 5G bring to the smart home? One of the technology’s greatest selling points is the low latency it offers. Current smart home devices can take a few seconds to respond to triggers and commands, which might not seem like a big deal, but will be particularly noticeable with voice-activated services and could make all the difference with connected security devices such as cameras and lights. The quicker they can respond and alert you to the presence of an intruder, the more likely they’ll be scared off.

In fact, it could lead to a higher level of security all round. If more homes adopt smarter security systems as a result, the whole area could be warned immediately if a break-in is attempted in the vicinity or somebody suspicious is spotted snooping around the bins at Number 45.

That’s not the only way 5G can help you to be more secure either. Smart home devices are notorious for being weak spots that can offer ways in for hackers to exploit, but 5G has an enhanced level of encryption: 256-bit compared to 4G’s 128-bit.

Improving connectivity on a wider scale like this will also help to bring smart home functionality to households that would previously have been less likely to adopt it. According to a 2016 survey by the UK’s Office for National Statistics* (ONS), 26 per cent of people aged 65 to 74 and 61 per cent of people aged 75 or over do not regularly use the internet1, meaning they’re also less likely to have a home Wi-Fi network to run smart devices on.

5G connectivity will make such a commitment unnecessary and enable the use of a whole range of devices that can improve the lives of those who have limited mobility or simply live alone or away from their families. That could be particularly important if the coronavirus pandemic requires periods of self-isolation to be a reality for the longer term.

5G will facilitate the use of wearable sensors to monitor the health and wellbeing of more vulnerable members of society, while allowing medical professionals to use telepresence devices to communicate and provide assistance to patients that are unable, or simply not allowed, to travel.

With 5G also allowing a lot of the processing power to be moved into the cloud, all kinds of devices will also become more lightweight and compact, opening up opportunities for a whole range of new in-home experiences. Current AR and VR devices require significant onboard computing power, which restricts their use around the home and limits their appeal to those less technologically inclined. With 5G taking on much of the heavy lifting though, tech companies will soon be able to shrink the headsets down closer to the size of a normal pair of glasses, making them far more appealing to use.

With the hardware more compatible with day-to-day use, the uses for such devices would be limited only by the imagination of the developers. Rather than propping up a tablet on the counter and watching a cookery video on YouTube*, amateur chefs could see a mixed-reality demonstration by a celebrity chef right in front of their very eyes, while DIY fanatics could be guided through home maintenance tasks with AR glasses pointing out exactly which screw fits in which hole. Wonky furniture could be a thing of the past.

Of course, none of these benefits can truly be realised until 5G is more widespread – but that’s just a matter of time. Over the next five years, the growth of smart home and other IoT devices will make the improvements on offer even clearer. By the time you’ve got a virtual personal trainer standing in your living room telling you to work even harder, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others