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Smart Plug Intro

Consummer smart plugs/bulbs available currently are exclusively controlled over WiFi. While easy for the user in some ways, I see several drawbacks in it.

  1. Bandwidth usage - Having many smart plugs in your home means lots of devices using up WiFi bandwidth.
  2. Ease of setup - Smart plugs must be given the SSID/password. This is usually done by an app that connects to a hotspot created by the plug which then configures it.
  3. Usable scenarios - Good WiFi signal is needed at that point for it to be usable.
  4. Cost - The plug must contain WiFi hardware, increasing the cost of materials (and by extension, the cost of the product).

I have a vision for an alternative product that I'm certain I would buy myself were it available. This vision lies at the intersection between powerline Ethernet (i.e. HomePlug AV) and smart devices.

Picture this: A smart plug that you plug into the wall, and it's instantly ready to use. That's it. Open up the app and you're ready to switch that plug on and off.

Such a device would address a number of the problems above.

  1. Bandwidth - No WiFi usage, and Ethernet (even over powerline) has an incredibly high bandwidth. Plus, the bandwidth isn't usually shared with personal devices.
  2. Ease of setup - Simply plugging such a smart plug into the wall would provide it with both power and data connection. There is virtually no setup process.
  3. Usable scenarios - Anywhere you already have power on the same circuit as a hub, you have a connection available.
  4. Cost - no WiFi hardware, so that cost is gone.

To be Fair and Balanced™©® however, it does come with its own drawbacks.

  1. Higher initial cost - Just the smart plug alone is not enough. A consumer must also have a hub that links their powerline to their router. Only one is necessary however, and any number of smart plugs can be connected to it once it's established. In fact it's possible to make the smart plugs compatible with other, off-the-shelf powerline Ethernet modules because it's standardized by Homeplug AV.
  2. Cost of materials - In the plug itself, we're replacing WiFi hardware with HomePlug AV hardware. It is yet unknown whether this cost can be made lower than the WiFi hardware.
  3. Usable scenarios - some older homes with bad wiring can have problems with powerline Ethernet. However, a smart plug does not require high bandwidth and low response times. As long as a simple packet can get through eventually, the wiring is still usable.

Side node: while I imagine many consumers want the plug-in style, I myself would prefer a smart plug that is wired into the wall.

I intend to bring this idea to some level of reality. Whether that's a crude prototype that I use myself (and of course publish the plans for), or a more refined prototype device with custom hardware, or I somehow turn this into a real, commercially available product, I do not know. I guess it depends on how difficult it gets.

Stay tuned.

Next: Smart Plug Prototype 0.1

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