Making sense of smart home technology

28 February 2022

The concept of smart home technology might seem intimidating, but in many respects, it can make our lives considerably easier.

There’s something strange and mysterious about the internet. By its very nature, there’s nothing to physically see or touch, despite the incalculable amounts of information available to view online. Websites and mobile phone apps offer a world of content, but it’s all hosted remotely in giant data centres and only displayed on your devices when you ask for it.

Things get even more perplexing when you consider the rapid growth in smart home technology. This relatively recent term covers any electronic device which is connected to the internet, for the purposes of either convenience or information sharing. It encompasses objects as diverse as TV sets, wearable fitness gadgets and table lamps. But what makes these objects smart, and why are they beneficial for modern living?

A definition of smart home technology

The term ‘smart’ is given to any electrical appliance capable of connecting to the internet. It doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to perform basic functions, so you can buy smart devices and leave them offline. However, connecting them to your home broadband network unlocks access to features which otherwise wouldn’t be available.

A modern television is a good example of a smart home device. You can plug it in and use it as a standard TV, using terrestrial signals from an aerial on the roof. However, linking it to your internet connection allows you to watch programmes on-demand, rather than just as they’re being broadcast. You can also access internet-based streaming platforms like Netflix, whose entire content roster is available to view at a moment’s notice via the internet.

Is it hard to set up technology like this?

If your house already has a broadband router, the simple answer is no. Some devices need a physical cable which plugs into the router, but the vast majority connect wirelessly using WiFi signals which the router is constantly beaming around the house.

Connecting a device to your WiFi network might involve visiting a website, installing a smartphone app or pressing a couple of buttons in quick succession. Once a device detects your home network, you’ll typically have to enter the WiFi password provided by your internet service provider. From then on, the device should remain constantly connected, sending and receiving data whenever it needs to.

What benefits can smart home tech bring?

As well as offering new avenues of entertainment, these are some of the key advantages of buying smart devices:

Security: Smart tech can allow you to close curtains, activate lights and turn on TVs/radios from anywhere in the world – ideal for maintaining a sense of occupancy while you’re away. Video cameras detect movement and instantly start recording, while video doorbells will notify you if anyone either passes or presses them. You can see and speak to people in real time through these systems, passing on instructions about where to leave parcels, etc.

Practicality: Smart speakers increasingly serve as voice controllers for other web-enabled devices, and this network of interconnected objects is known as the Internet of Things. You can instruct your speaker to order goods, turn a light on or send a message to speakers in other rooms/friends’ homes. They’re great for broadcasting reminders (such as when it’s time to take tablets), notify you when goods are delivered to your door, and much more besides.

Health: Smart wearable devices monitor vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure. They generate reams of health-related data, offering unparalleled insights into sleep patterns, fitness and daily activity levels. As well as being fascinating, this data may be beneficial for medical professionals. Some hardware will even identify if a wearer collapses or falls, automatically summoning assistance if it’s been programmed to do so.