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Selling Smart Homes

The global smart-home market is predicted to be worth US$137.9 billion by 2023, with annual growth expected to be about 13.6 per cent over the next five years. In China, expectations are higher still – according to Statista, a Hamburg-headquartered market-research group – with the annual growth rate expected to be in the region of 59.6 per cent, a level of expansion that will see the Chinese mainland market worth some US$13.4 billion by 2021.

The surge is set to be driven by a substantial upturn in the number of residential users, with smart homes set to rise from its current level of 2.6 per cent of all households to 12.6 per cent by 2021. This mass adoption has been led by China's growing number of young tech-savvy consumers, with a further boost coming from moves to increase overall urbanisation levels.

Against this buoyant backdrop, hopes were high for the success of September's Shanghai Smart Home Technology exhibition, which this year focused on wireless light-switch systems.

At the forefront of this particular sector was German company ZF, which was  promoting its range of energy-harvesting wireless switching units. "It's easy to install pretty much anywhere and comes with a generator that converts the kinetic energy created by pressing the switch into electrical energy,” said Robert Yang, ZF's Business Development Manager. “This year, we have had a lot of interest in the system from both domestic and overseas clients."

A similar range of high-tech switches was also offered by Shenzhen-based Ebelong Technology. Apart from its proprietary array of kinetic energy-powered systems, it was also promoting its solar-powered units.

"All of our switches have an operating range of 30 metres indoors and 160 metres outdoors,” said Lily Li, the company’s International Sales Representative. “They are managed via a controller, with each controller capable of linking up to 10 different switches. Each switch can survive up to 200,000 actuations, giving them, on average, a 60-year lifespan.

Industry Standard

Zigbee
Zigbee: speaking the language of smart homes

Wireless communication underpins many home automation technologies, with the Zigbee high-level communications protocol tipped to become the industry standard. Cheaper and simpler than many of the competing technologies, notably Bluetooth, Zigbee-enabled modules are said to be ideally suited for low power, low-data usage applications, including wireless light switches.

Hangzhou-based Rexense claims its REX3M unit is the smallest Zigbee module on the market. "Although we have only been selling this product for six months, we actually started developing it 14 months ago,” said Overseas Sales Manager Autumn Chen. “The system, as it now stands, uses the ZHA 1.2 communication protocol, which allows one gateway to manage 200 devices.

Intelligent lighting: an illuminating trend
Intelligent lighting: an illuminating trend

"Each individual gateway is cloud-connected, with all controls managed via a smartphone mobile app. In addition to controlling lighting, it can also be used to monitor smoke alarms, home-security systems and smart-metering technology."

Debuting at the show was Huizhou-based Yuncun Technology, another company focusing on smoke detectors and other alarm systems. Typically, these detectors are linked to a smartphone app, which alerts users of an emergency. "While we primarily sell to home users, we are looking to make inroads into the hospitality sector,” said Bonnie He, Sales Representative.  

Established 25 years ago, Milan-based home and building automation specialist Duemmegi set up its China operation in 2003. Among the first of its mainland projects was work on a new Ikea warehouse in Shanghai's Songjiang district.

“While our system isn't new, it is reliable,” said Mario Costola, the company's General Manager. “As all of our production is handled out of Italy, it is difficult for our mainland competitors to match us in quality terms.

Growing Competition

With a pedigree almost as impressive, Shenzhen-based Neuwill is ranked as one of China's 10 leading smart-home brands. Founded just 15 years ago, the company has its own R&D centre and an in-house software-development team. At the Shanghai show, it promoted its top-of-the-range 10-inch touch-screen gateway, which allows lighting, heating and security systems to be controlled via a smartphone app.

"Recently, a number of the larger Chinese companies, including Haier and Huawei, entered the market for the first time, inevitably increasing the overall level of competition,” said Sales Manager Mary Chen. “We have an advantage, though, in that many of these companies don't have in-house R&D facilities.

"Despite this heightened level of competition, China is still a better market for us than Europe or the US. It helps that many high-end developers, such as Vanke, are specifying our systems in newly built apartment complexes."

Another area of concern for many in the industry is how to reduce the level of carbon dioxide build-up in public spaces, including schools and offices. To tackle this problem, SenseAir, a Swedish provider of air- and gas-sensing technology, launched a sensor that triggers an alert when carbon-dioxide levels exceed 1,000ppm, filtering fresh air into the affected area. To date, the sensors have been installed in the Shanghai Opera House and the Seoul Metrosystem.

Highlighting the flexibility of the system, Wang Ting, the Manager of the company's China operations, said: "The sensors are designed to be used continually for up to 15 years without the need for any maintenance. One sensor can cover an area of up to 100 square metres, with actual room volume determining the number of units required."

Parking System

Shanghai Smart Home Technology: an expo dedicated to the robo-residences of tomorrow
Shanghai Smart Home Technology: an expo dedicated to the robo-residences of tomorrow

One company making its first foray into both the smart-building management sector and the exhibition was Carlo Gavazzi, a Milan-based supplier of automation components. At present, the company offers three primary product lines – building management, energy management and parking guidance systems, which is said to be more advanced than existing ones on the market.

"Our system also promotes energy efficiency, only activating ventilation when carbon dioxide levels have passed a particular point,” said Paul Poh, the company's Asia Pacific Marketing Manager.  “It also allows for certain areas to be closed off, ensuring that cars only have to be driven minimally to find a parking space.”

For more China market opportunities, please visit: http://research.hktdc.com

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