In 2003, I went to Zermatt, Switzerland to go snowboarding under the Matterhorn. We had an eclectic group of people from all over the world. Some of us were enthusiasts, some ski patrol or medics, and a few were backcountry avalanche trained. Because of this, we had a lot of different gear with us, including ice saws, shovels, probes, avalanche beacons, radios, etc. In addition to the gear we carried, we also brought cameras, cell phones, MP3 players and of course, large battery charger bays with international inverters/adapters to keep everything going. I had a backpack with all the avalanche and snow testing gear. In my jacket, I carried an avalanche beacon, digital camera, flip cell phone, family radio with a long external mic, GPS, and an MP3 player with headphones. I felt like I was Batman with all the gear crammed all over the place. I told one of my friends on the trip that one day all of this technology would be consolidated into one device – radio, phone, camera, MP3 player, and avalanche beacon. My friends thought I was crazy and that it would never happen. Fast forward to the smartphone where we now have it all, with the exception of Avalanche beacon, in one device.
To think that many of us had these “point solutions” in our personal tech and now it’s all consolidated into one makes me wonder when will we consolidate at home?
The future of the smart home
I have a Zigbee bridge for my lights, a Zigbee bridge for my blinds, 5 smart speakers, solar panels on the blinds (to charge them and get heat/sunlight measures), smart smoke detectors, smart locks, IP cameras, smart watering system for the plants, smart lights, smart alarm, UTM firewall, WiFi mesh, etc. These are all point solutions. Some of them are really neat and probably should stay point solution based, but what if the technology companies today were to start thinking about consolidating and adding security into the mix?
I’ve started to look at upgrading my home WiFi network as my smart TV and smart streaming box are now struggling to play streaming movies. After looking at some of the new consumer level WiFi mesh solutions, they show a lot of promise. One of the vendors I’m considering offers not only an easy to set up mesh WiFi, but they also provide automatic channel changing for WiFi radio frequencies to find the fastest radio, as well as automatically move devices around to access points. One of them offers VPN services as well as anti-virus and content filtering, (keeping you safe from malicious websites) and giving out tokens for guests and keeping them on their own network. This all looks great, but I started to think back to Zermatt, Switzerland.
What if the smart home speaker manufacturers wanted to really capture the market? What if you could get a smart speaker that had both a WiFi Mesh Access Point, Zigbee/Zwave access point (for lights, controllers, etc), and cloud-based security features in it? If I could drop a new smart speaker in any room and set it up in 3-5 minutes and have it join my wireless mesh network, it could cover a lot of territories quickly. Now, if one of them were the base unit that plugged into the internet router, it could be the main interface for security. Take all the device groups and help suggest security policies to keep them from talking to things they shouldn’t (like the cameras should never talk to the smart watering controller). What if it could look for IoT threats that spread internally as well as connections to malware Command and Control servers?
Security should be a priority
In terms of the security that could easily be offered and bundled across this platform could be things like VPN (both to and from the home network). This could allow you to browse safely while using public WiFi. You could also access any home devices that may not be very secure from the manufacturers like IP cameras and DVR’s without having to expose them to the world. Cloud-based security offerings could do things like look for malware infections and requests to malware botnet controllers. Then, layers like intrusion prevention and active WiFi defense layers could help detect if hackers were aiming at getting onto the network and doing harm. And finally, putting all of these offerings into a single pane of glass for visibility would definitely be attractive to end customers.
Granted, I know this could put the point solution providers in a position where their WiFi solutions and home routers become less valuable to the mainstream. But what if we got better antivirus and IOT protection? I can only dream of the day that we as consumers are able to consolidate all of our home networks to a real smart home-based solution. I know in the enterprise IT market; we have gained the popularity of Unified Threat Management platforms. Firewalls that do Intrusion Prevention, Wireless Intrusion Prevention, Inline Antivirus, Content Filtering, Guest and networks. I think the next logical step is to see all of these features consolidated into the next generation smart home speakers. How long will it take to see this reality? I don’t know. Will people think this idea is crazy? Probably.
Update: At the time of writing this, there has been an announcement from one of the smart home speaker manufacturers for a new smart home speaker. This new line will actually include a smart home hub in the speaker. Nothing has been said as to whether it provides any security features.