It doesn't have to be Wi-Fi

Why Germany is connecting homes and buildings in a different way.

When it comes to connecting their homes, most consumers nowadays opt for radio standards instead of cables. Installation is extremely easy, and the network can be easily extended at any time. However, how stable and secure the smart home is heavily depends on the specific radio standard. Being dependent on the internet and apps can also become a problem. Instead of relying on Wi-Fi and similar standards, more and more providers and users in Germany are therefore opting for solutions based on the ULE standard.

From the doorbell to the light to the heating: without the internet and apps, no building or home can be connected nowadays – or so it seems. Using Wi-Fi is particularly common. However, many wireless technologies used for connecting homes and buildings – including Wi-Fi – use the 2.4 GHz or 868 MHz frequency bands. This can quickly lead to interference and thus failures. If the signal from the Wi-Fi door intercom is not getting through, the visitor will wait in vain outside the house. The same applies if the smart home devices depend on a stable internet connection, or the app cannot be accessed because the smartphone is playing up or the battery is empty. The security aspect is also an important factor in the success or failure of smart home solutions. After all, if the surveillance system itself isn't secure, the house isn't either.

For these and other reasons, more and more providers and users in Germany are turning to solutions that are not relying on the internet, and which are secure and stable and can be easily expanded regardless of the manufacturer. These solutions are based on the ULE (Ultra-Low Energy) radio standard, which is used in many Speedport gateways from Deutsche Telekom and in the popular FRITZ!Box routers from AVM. This means that the majority of all households in Germany already have a base station at home for setting up their own smart home. The two companies offer their own ULE-based products such as LED lights, radiator thermostats, switchable sockets, smart switches as well as door and window contacts. However, devices from other manufacturers can also be integrated into the network. As the Speedports have successfully passed the certification process of the ULE Alliance, it is ensured that the gateways are open to all third-party manufacturers. This means that any manufacturer who wants to can develop and offer ULE-based products that can be integrated into the smart home.

Protected frequencies and strict radio protocol

As ULE is a protocol extension of the DECT standard, ULE can easily be added to existing DECT base stations via a software update. Other devices such as cordless telephones or door intercom systems such as the DoorLine Slim DECT from Telegärtner Elektronik can also be integrated into the network via the DECT base station. As ULE, like DECT, uses protected frequencies in the 1880-1900 MHz range, there can be no interference with other devices in the area, as is the case with Wi-Fi. DECT and ULE are also characterised by a strict radio protocol. Based on the protocol, up to 2,000 sensors and actuators could theoretically be operated in a single network.

In addition, ULE is considered to be a particularly secure radio standard. ULE uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for electronic data, issued by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. By using AES-CCM for encryption and authentication, the entire network is protected in the best possible way.

As the name already suggests, ULE is also extremely energy-efficient. At full transmission power, consumption is a maximum of 250 mW. Even with battery-operated products such as smoke and fire detectors, a service life of several years is possible. Since the range of DECT, at approximately 50 metres in buildings and 500 metres outdoors, is significantly greater than that of Wi-Fi, for example, longer distances can also be covered easily. Thanks to these features, ULE is also being used more and more in industrial solutions, for example in the bait protection boxes from the German company ball-b. These boxes not only prevent contact between rat poison and water, for example in the sewage system, but the data from each box can also be read and transferred to a cloud without opening a single manhole. Thanks to ULE and additional technology, users of these smart boxes, such as councils and pest control, can detect current “rat hotspots” from their office.

Ideally suited for voice transmission – even without apps and the internet

So far, however, ULE is primarily being used in the smart home sector. With "Elements", Gigaset, a company which for a long time was mainly known for its DECT cordless telephones, nowadays also offers a comprehensive smart home product line, ranging from alarm systems to heating control.

The fact that a telephone specialist like Gigaset relies on ULE shows how well this wireless standard is suited for voice-based solutions. As more and more users want to control their smart home via voice control, the transmission of voice is becoming increasingly important for the smart home. With ULE, the transmission of voice is possible in both directions: from the user to the system, and from the system to the user. ULE-based systems could, for example, not only alert residents at night about the outbreak of a fire, but also communicate the best escape route in the dark with helpful instructions. Apps or even an internet connection are not necessarily required, meaning that the lives of the users are not depending on whether an internet connection is available or the app is running properly. But even in less critical moments, users are happy when the smart home simply does what most users want from a smart home: more comfort and security without any stress.

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