The Smart Home Automation industry in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been growing at a rapid pace since its dawn over the last several years. The market is becoming more and more aware of the capabilities of having a complete automation system whether at the scale of individual residences, palaces, real estate developments, and hotels. Many developments in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have already been completed with a pre-installed automation system. Many developments in areas like Victory Heights, Arabian Ranches, Sports City, and Reem Island have also been built with infrastructure to support such technologies in the future.
In basic form, automation includes systems that control Lighting, Appliances, HVAC, Curtains and Multimedia. The market in the UAE has not only begun to realize the benefits in terms of comfort, security, and luxury. But also in terms of energy saving and increasing property value, thus all these realizations will continue to lead to a booming market in the UAE.
As automation is somewhat of a new technology in the mainstream market, one must be aware of the countless number of underlying technologies that connect and allow for the communication between a user and the Light Dimming Systems or Air Conditioning Systems. On the surface, these technologies may seem to lead to the same functionality, but in the back-end, they are different in potentially catastrophic ways. This leads us to the reason why we started composing this article, that is, to shed light onto the pros and cons of the different technologies (regardless of product or vendor) which are available in the UAE market today.
Any automation system is composed of 2 high-level components, the controller, and the modules. The modules include light dimmers, relay switches, thermostats, motorized curtain control systems, distributed speakers..etc. which are to be controlled by the home owner. The controller, is the heart of the system from which signals are sent to “Dim the lights” or “turn on the air conditioning”. The method of communication between the controller and the modules are the Automation Communication Technology which we wish to address in this article. The method of communication can either be through wires or wireless and are usually in line with certain protocols or standards of communication. This article will explore and compare KNX, X10, Zigbee, En-Ocean, and Z-wave.
The criteria for comparison which we will explore are the following:
- Reliability of Communication: How reliable is the communication between the Controller and the Modules? When a message is sent to a module, the system must ensure the message’s arrival and confirmation of receipt. Scoring well in this criteria is very important to ensure that even under circumstances of wired or wireless interference messages are resent until confirmed by the receiving module. Not all protocols comply with this requirement.
- Security of Communication: The protocol must guarantee that a 3rd party cannot infiltrate an existing system and operate it with unauthorized access. The results of a hacker entering a parking lot of a hotel and turning all its lights off is disastrous.
- Features and Capabilities: It is important that automation technologies go beyond just controlling individual modules and have the capability to integrate with other systems most typically entertainment since that is an area of high usage of any home owner. Example: Easy Integration with Multi-room Music Systems, Multi-room multimedia distribution systems (Movies, Videos, Pictures, Music)…etc.
- Investment Protection: It is important to make sure that installed Controller or Modules can be easily replaced in the future. Consider having installed a system that has some components fail after 5 years, and at the same time, the company which installed it became bankrupt. The home owner would be left with no choice but to completely revamp the entire electrical system in the residence which would cost more in time, labor, and equipment that what was originally paid for the automation system. Having a system that is standardized means that any other company can support it or replace certain parts with different products, maybe from different vendors, in order to ensure continued operation.
- Interoperability: This criteria refers to the capability of the Controller to speak to multiple Modules from different manufacturers. This will ensure that a system is made up with Lighting, HVAC, Curtains, Appliances, and Multimedia Control Modules are purchased from different manufacturers which are the best or most specialized in those fields. This ensures that a system has the best-in class Modules for each particular purpose. It is not logical that the best manufacturer of light dimmers is also the best manufacturer of curtain control systems, or audio systems. Some communication protocols are closed or proprietary, thus forcing the customer to purchase everything from a single manufacturer. This criteria also overlaps with the Investment Protection Criteria since having an interoperable system will give future flexibility to easily replace Modules even if the company which installed them has closed down.
The remainder of this document will address each communication technology based on the above criteria.
KNX is an international standard of communication typically installed in wired twisted pair environments. KNX was designed in 1990 and was made as a very robust protocol to be used in industrial automation applications. The protocols reliability cannot be questioned since it implements many OSI communication layers and is quite complex. KNX is also controlled by the KNX association and any company usually spends thousands of dirhams on their employees to go through training in order to understand the inner workings of the system. KNX is a complex protocol by nature, and was designed long before the “smart home” concept was born, thus the hardware that has the capability to support the complexity of KNX is expensive not only to engineer, but also to manufacture and thus the hopes for this technology to become cheaper than its current alternatives is futile.
KNX has and is a popular choice for hotels since 2006 and has been deployed in many developments such as the Shangri-la in Dubai, Rotana Hotels in the Marina, Fairmont, Movenpick to name a few. KNX is also being specified by many real estate consultants for major developments in the Abu Dhabi Reem Island and Yas Island.
- Reliability of Communication: Yes
- Security of Communication: Yes
- Price: No
- Features and Capabilities: No. KNX has been more focused at the simple facility of automation and typically fits in hotel environments where customization and multimedia integration is not required.
- Investment Protection: Yes
- Interoperability: Yes