All About the Fifth Play, Smart Home and Smart Energy

The home area network and the smart energy network need to be considered as separate and independent; one controlled by the utility and virtually invisible for the consumer; the other the consumer-controlled home network, which will help the consumer live in a smart home.

The Fifth Play is not the local production of your community theater – it is what cable companies and service providers currently are rolling out to increase their market share and to help prevent losing their valuable customers. Time Warner Intelligent Home, Verizon’s Home Monitoring & Control and Comcast’s xFinity are just some of the large operators who are now expanding their service offerings into safety, security and comfort systems, and helping consumers to become smart about their homes.

What is the Fifth Play? Service providers are currently marketing three or four different types of services for their customers – the so-called Three Plays or Four Plays.

The Four Plays are TV/movies, broadband, VoIP and cell phone service. The new Fifth Play is smart home services – i.e., energy management and monitoring; home security; health monitoring; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning control (HVAC); solar panel control; etc., all connected to the smart meter or the set-top box or the more properly named “home-control box.”

Communicating via the web through the home-control box, the smart connected home’s various systems can be controlled via smartphone or smart device apps.

By using the various flavors of the new and open standard ZigBee – ZigBee RF4CE, ZigBee Pro, ZigBee IP and/or ZigBee Smart Energy – these operators will be able to overcome the major obstacles to the market acceptance of the smart, connected Home: interoperability and the ongoing costs of installation, device and system maintenance and monitoring.

As a central home controller with one or more ZigBee radio chips inside, the new generation set-top box will be able to talk to a wide range of devices in the home. Light switches, lamp controllers and other devices that do not require any power or can operate using a type of energy harvesting, can use ZigBee Green Power to communicate to the home-control box. By using ZigBee RF4CE, the home controller will be able to communicate interactivity with local remote controls, portable health monitoring devices, window access alarms and other low-data-rate devices. By using ZigBee Pro or ZigBee IP, the central control unit will be able to talk to and communicate with devices that require AC line power such as security systems, window opening and closing systems, door lock/unlock systems, security cameras, HVAC, etc.

As all of the these devices connect and talk to the home-control box and from there to the Internet via an Internet gateway, they can be controlled from smartphones or mobile web devices using apps or other web-hosted user interfaces. The Internet gateway can be integrated inside the home-control box or can be a separate box, either connected to a broadband cable and using the connected TV screen as a display to set up and control the device. Actually, a truly smart TV could have both the home-control box and the Internet gateway integrated inside of it.

Currently most smart-home/connected-home installations are handled by do-it-yourselfers (DIYers), hobbyists and early innovators. Some sophisticated connected home systems are also being installed and maintained by custom home electronics integrator companies. However, as the service providers increasingly roll out these systems, for a monthly fee the operator will be responsible for these chores. Similar to how cable TV and VoIP are installed in homes today, trained technicians will be dispatched and will be responsible for handling the installation, maintenance and repair. No longer will the homeowner have to figure out and troubleshoot a nest of cables and connections.

Once the smart-home/connected-home is a reality, the next step is the “really smart home.” This is true machine-to-machine intelligence and communication – when these smart-home services and devices actually exchange information and talk to each other without human intervention. For example, the smart home will know if there is anyone in the home and where in the house they are and then adjust heating or air conditioning accordingly. If everyone is in the den watching TV, why waste energy heating the bedrooms?

A security breach in the home can immediately send a text message to the homeowner and a response company. Water leaks can be immediately identified and alerted, saving money and preventing damage. Elderly people can be monitored by their children and medical staff via smartphone and alerts. Medicine consumption can be automatically monitored. Air-conditioning turns off when windows get opened. Lights are switched off in rooms where there are no people. Rooftop solar panels can be monitored and controlled to ensure optimal operating efficiency.

What about ZigBee Smart Energy?
ZigBee Smart Energy is a protocol (application profile) that was developed for the utilities to manage and control the energy consumption of the consumer in the home. There were also intentions to help the consumer better understand the energy consumption, and remotely control it, or to drive down the energy bill, etc.

But the first goal for smart energy developed by the large utilities was so they can better manage (reduce) peak load, and in particular, avoid everyone recharging using heavy energy-demand appliances at the same time. Smart energy enables the utilities to switch on and off selective equipment in the home (electric car charger, freezer, air conditioner and pool pump). Consumers who are willing to allow the utilities to take this control will receive a discount.

This is all legitimate but introduces questions about privacy, security, ownership of usage data and so forth. Smart energy extends the reach of the utilities from the power plant into the home, and not anymore to the front door of the home (the smart meter, so to say): Smart energy integrates the connected home into the smart grid. In addition, there is talk of bundling low-data home-automation services through the smart meter and effectively transforming the power utility into a service provider.

ZigBee Smart Energy version 1.x was developed to provide metering support for electric, gas, water and thermal power. ZigBee 1.x can also support load control with built-in customer-override capabilities and energy pricing that can change per time of day and level of consumer consumption. ZigBee Smart Energy also enables secure communications between the device and the utility, over-the-air updates and the ability to transmit important text messages and alerts to the homeowner. Smart Energy 1.x can also be used to connect meter integrated or standalone gateways, programmable thermostats and a wide variety of other power consuming devices such as water heaters, lighting and pool pumps.

The new Smart Energy Profile version 2.0 is currently under development and offers IPv6-based control for advanced metering infrastructure and home area networks (HANs). How and even whether this version will replace ZigBee Smart Energy version 1.x is still open for discussion and probably will vary by country or region. Version 2.0 will offer utilities and energy service providers additional options for developing advanced metering infrastructure and HANs.

ZigBee Smart Energy version 2.0 builds on version 1x by adding control of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging stations, support for health area network devices and various other interactive consumer services.

There are two versions of Smart Energy 1.x (running on top of ZigBee PRO) and Smart Energy 2.0 (running on top of ZigBee IP).

What is ZigBee Home Automation and How Does It Differ from ZigBee Smart Energy?
Running over ZigBee Pro, ZigBee Home Automation is a protocol (application profile) for the consumer to manage any equipment in the home: connecting security devices, HVAC devices, consumer electronic devices, lights, etc. It clearly has the consumer in mind, and it provides opportunities to do smart things in the home, to allow people to remotely control these devices and help reduce energy consumption – for example, by turning the lights off in a room when there are no people in it.

However, this is NOT smart energy. Devices that are part of the home area network are not part of the smart energy network or vice versa, although devices can be part of both networks at the same time. But actually, the two networks need to be considered as two separate and independent networks; one network controlled by the utility and virtually invisible for the consumer. The other network is the consumer-controlled home network, which will help the consumer to live in a smart home.

Will the future continue this way? Would it not be great if the home automation network could also read information from the smart energy network? Actually, discussions are ongoing. But frankly, for security reasons the utilities would prefer it that they control and collect information from a few devices in your home that make the difference in the total energy consumption bill, and then return it to you over the Internet after you have logged in. A device in the kitchen on which you can see the energy consumption, directly read from the smart meter is underway.



Cees Links, is the founder and CEO of GreenPeak. Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed, ultimately becoming household technology integrated into PCs and notebooks. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers and hotspot base-stations. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the Wi-Fi Alliance. And he was instrumental in establishing the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee sense and control networking. GreenPeak Technologies is a fabless semiconductor company and is a leader in ZigBee silicon solutions for the smart home. For more information, please visit


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