When people think of smart devices, they typically think of smartphones and tablets. Electronics manufacturer Binatone Electronics International wants them to also think of cordless home phones – specifically, cordless home phones that run on Android and serve as a remote control UI for home networks.
Binatone showcased its latest cordless phone, the iHomePhone 5, at the Broadband & TV Connect Asia event in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
The iHomePhone 5 looks and acts like a smartphone, with a lot of the bells and whistles you’d expect. It runs on Android Jellybean, supports HD video (including video calls), and the hardware includes a 4.3” or 5” touchscreen, 3D gaming GPU, 2MP camera, 4GB of NAND flash memory and a microSD card slot for an extra 32GB.
The main difference: it doesn’t run on LTE or even HSPA+, but on European cordless phone technology DECT. It can connect to the PSTN like a normal desktop phone via the dock, to a Wi-Fi router to make VoIP calls, and to a DECT-enabled home gateway via CAT-iq 2.0 for HD voice. And of course it can also access the internet and serve as a game console.
Binatone CTO Karl-Heinz Müller says that there’s still demand for a “smart home phone” even in an age of fixed-mobile substitution in the voice space.
“Smartphones are very personalized to the point where you would hesitate to lend it to a family member to make a call,” he says. “Home phones serve more as a communal phone that everyone can use when they need it.”
But the home-networking angle is where smart home phones will really come into play, Müller says. The iHomePhone not only supports DECT/CAT-iq home gateway connectivity, it also supports home-networking standards like DLNA and UPnP.
It’s also certified for ULE (ultra low energy), a DECT technology standardized by ETSI, and developed and certified commercially by the ULE Alliance (which was spun off from the DECT Forum in February).
ULE allows low-power devices like energy meters, motion sensors and smoke alarms to be connected to the home gateway to create services such as home monitoring.
“So for example, if you are away from home and an intruder breaks into your home, or if there is a fire, the motion sensors and smoke alarms can report this through the gateway and to your smartphone outside,” Müller says.
The idea for a smart-home-phone-as-remote-control isn’t new. Apart from the fact that Binatone launched its first smart home phone product back in 2010, PCCW already offers something similar with its Eye2 package. The Eye service started as a desk phone that supported video calls, SMS and online services, and has since evolved into an Android-powered DECT smartphone and Wi-Fi tablet, both of which serve as the UI for the operator’s IPTV, content and home networking services.
Binatone is targeting telcos with its smart home phone equipment to serve the same purpose.
While Müller is enthusiastic about DECT’s status as “a mature technology” to play a key role in the Digital Home, he admits that using DECT does limit Binatone’s prospects for China, a big and potentially lucrative market for the company.
“DECT spectrum has not been cleared in China [by the MIIT] apart from a 20-MHz sliver in the 1900-1920 range for trial purposes,” he explains. “That’s still a grey area for DECT for the time being.”