1 Nov 2017
Predicted Annual Growth of 59.6% Boosts Mainland Smart Home Sector
With many of China's youthful tech-savvy consumers set to be early adopters of smart-home technology, the mainland is tipped to be one of the fastest-growing markets for the array of intelligent residential systems now in development.
At present, the outlook for growth in the global smart-home market is reassuringly optimistic. Overall, the sector is predicted to be worth US$137.9 billion by 2023, with annual growth expected to be about 13.6% over the next five years. In terms of the China-specific market, expectations are higher still – at least according to Statista, a Hamburg-headquartered market-research group – with the annual growth rate expected to be in the region of 59.6%, a level of expansion that will see the mainland market worth some $13.4 billion by 2021.
This huge 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% of all households to 12.6% 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 this year's Shanghai Smart Home Technology (SSHT) exhibition, an event that was again co-located with the Shanghai Intelligent Building Technology show. Unlike many of the comparable trade events in Europe and North America, which tend to be dominated by domestic energy-efficiency systems, this year's Shanghai show majored on wireless light-switch systems.
At the forefront of this particular sector was ZF, a German company looking to promote its range of energy-harvesting wireless switching units. Founded 102 years ago, the company has now been in China for more than 20 years, with its Asia Pacific regional headquarters operating out of Shanghai.
Highlighting the particular benefits of its system, Robert Yang, ZF's Business Development Manager, said: "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. 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 on offer from Shenzhen-based Ebelong Technology. As well as its proprietary array of kinetic energy-powered systems, it was also looking to drive sales of its solar-powered units.
Outlining the benefits of its system, International Sales Representative Lily Li said: "All of our switches have an operating range of 30 metres indoors and 160 metres outdoors. 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.
"In terms of our experience at this event, this year's show is certainly better than last year. At present, we export to Australia, Japan, Korea and Mexico, although the UK is probably our largest overseas market."
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.
Taking things to the next level, Hangzhou-based Rexense claims its REX3M unit is the smallest Zigbee module on the market. Explaining the appeal of this compact device, Overseas Sales Manager Autumn Chen said: "Although we have only been selling this product for six months, we actually started developing it 14 months ago. The system, as it now stands, uses the ZHA 1.2 communication protocol, which allows one gateway to manage 200 devices.
"Each individual gateway is cloud-connected, with all control then 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."
Making its debut at the show was Huizhou-based Yuncun Technology, another company with a focus on smoke detectors as well as other alarm systems. Typically, these detectors are linked to a smartphone app, which will then alert any designated user in the event of an urgent situation arising.
Outlining the company's target market, Sales Representative Bonnie He said: "While we primarily sell to home users, we are now looking to make inroads into the hospitality sector. In terms of events, we have previously participated in shows in Xian and Beijing. While this show is clearly better than the Xian event, there are less buyers here than there were at the Beijing expo."
By comparison, Duemmegi, a Milan-based home and building automation specialist, has a long history in the sector, having launched 25 years ago, while its China operation has been in place since 2003. Among the first of its mainland projects was work on a new Ikea warehouse in Shanghai's Songjiang district.
Recalling those early days, Mario Costola, the company's General Manager, said: "From the outset, Ikea was very happy with our installation. While our system isn't new, it is reliable. As all of our production is handled out of Italy, it is difficult for our mainland competitors to match us in quality terms, especially as they often use substandard raw materials.
"Today, we offer a range of different modules for use with lighting, curtains, air-conditioners, heating systems, audio equipment, televisions and air-filtration units, all of which can be controlled via a mobile phone. Our key difference, though, is that we offer a complete service – everything from initial consultation to installation and after-sales."
With a pedigree almost as impressive, Shenzhen-based Neuwill is now ranked as one of China's 10 leading smart-home brands. Founded just 15 years ago, the company now has its own R&D centre and an in-house software-development team. This year, it had undertaken the 3,000km round trip to Shanghai to promote its top-of-the-range 10-inch touch-screen gateway, which allows lighting, heating and security systems to be controlled via a smartphone app.
Assessing the current state of the sector, Sales Manager Mary Chen said: "Recently, a number of the larger Chinese companies, including Haier and Huawei, have entered the market for the first time, which has inevitably increased the overall level of competition. 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 many public spaces, including schools and offices. Once the concentration of this colourless gas becomes too high, it has a soporific effect on those in its immediate vicinity, often severely impairing their efficiency.
In order to tackle this problem, SenseAir, a Swedish provider of air- and gas-sensing technology, has launched a sensor that triggers an alert when carbon-dioxide levels exceed 1,000ppm. This then allows for additional fresh air to be filtered into the affected area. To date, these sensors have been installed in the Shanghai Opera House and the Seoul Metro system.
Highlighting the flexibility of the system, Wang Ting, the Manager of the company's China operations, said: "The sensors are designed to be in continual use for up to 15 years without the need for any maintenance. One sensor can cover an area of up to 100 sq m, with actual room volume determining the number of units required."
One company making its first foray into both the smart-building management sector and the Smart Home Technology 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. Among these, its parking system is said to be something of a step up from the simple use of illuminated signage to indicate available spaces adopted by many operators.
Expanding on this, Paul Poh, the company's Asia Pacific Marketing Manager, said: "Our system also promotes energy efficiency, only activating ventilation when carbon dioxide levels have passed a particular point. It also allows for certain areas to be closed off, ensuring that cars only have to do a minimum level of driving around in order to find a parking space.
"In terms of this event, we have had a good response so far, although we don't yet know the final outcome. The fact that the Chinese government has such a focus on energy efficiency, however, gives us cause to be optimistic."
Shanghai Smart Home Technology 2017 was held from 5-7 September at the Shanghai New International Expo Center.
Chen Rong, Special Correspondent, Shanghai