Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Saudi market is preparing to invest 150 million Saudi Riyals (US $40.2 billion) over the next few years into the shift towards “smart homes”, a widely used term to describe buildings distinguished by one central system that entails various internal networks that synchronize and communicate with each other in order to facilitate daily tasks.
Recent studies regarding the real estate market indicated that the Gulf countries in general and Saudi Arabia in particular are likely to be the most advanced with respect to [establishing] smart homes as a result of the level of constructional development in this region. Throughout the course of this year, steps will be taken in the kingdom and other Gulf countries towards this project. The United Arab Emirates last year announced that it would launch smart homes in Dubai.
In September 2007, Asharq Al-Awsat published a report in which Khaled Abdul Karim, executive manager of the Abdul Karim Holdings group and a member of the Saudi Chamber of Commerce in Sharqiya, Saudi Arabia, affirmed that his company had agreed to carry out an experimental phase in which buildings would be connected with optical fibre lines that would allow companies and houses to create an electronic environment and facilitate communication. The experimental stages were expected to begin during the first quarter of 2008 in selected parts of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. At that time, Abdul Karim stated that the experimental stage would last for one year in Riyadh and would be conducted in conjunction with the China-based Hawawi Company that signed a contract with the Saudi Telecommunications Company. These contracts are estimated at 1.5 billion Saudi Riyals (US $402,360 million) in the three regions and Abdul Karim stated that approximately 150 billion Saudi Riyals ($40.2 billion) is to be spent on smart homes.
However, the spread of “smart homes” in this region may encounter difficulties due to a scarcity of contractors and consultants who would be able to take on such projects, in addition to the lack of skilled labourers in the field of modern technologies.
Engineer Hani Telal Bakr, chief executive of Al Noor Technology Company, which specialises in integrated smart systems for buildings, stated that the relationship between modern technology and infrastructure has become a main feat in the field of real estate and added value. Nowadays, the communications and capacity of a building’s infrastructure and its suitability to communications and modern technology are fundamental for homeowners.
“Even in the West, smart homes are not widespread because the buildings there are older than ours. We have given preponderance to the spread of smart homes because we are experiencing a period of growth and construction,” Bakr stated.
In comparison to the costs of ordinary buildings, the design and preparation of [smart homes] could increase the value of a building between 30% and 50%. This makes it of great importance for real estate developers as the profit for investing in technology is very high and the cost of letting smart homes has a 150% to 200% increase over normal buildings.
At the same time, Bakr affirmed that there are some exaggerations in discussions about smart home control systems. However, what is certain is that the advantage of modern technology in this respect and smart home control systems is that they provide more capacity and choice for consumers. Instead of multiple networks, one central system can be used for various functions.
With regards to the services that are provided by companies in the field of technological solutions and smart home control systems in Saudi Arabia, Bakr said, “The companies provide different systems in the building, which depend on the computer network and the internet.” Bakr continued, “There are companies focusing on the preliminary stages of security systems and training cadres so that they can install other systems such as air-conditioning, lighting and other services that can be controlled by the network in the building, including providing television channels and telephone lines via the network. These techniques are imported from Europe and America.”
However, corporations and associations have expressed more interest than individual homeowners as the benefit for them is greater especially with respect to security systems. Bakr stated that “the use of keys by corporations is outdated. The security system is controlled from a central location and exit and entrance is controlled by a fingerprint or card system etc.”
“Without doubt, the entire world has become more aware about security; different companies protect their facilities as they seek to safeguard the confidentiality of their own documents and information. There is an increasing demand for our services within the Saudi market.”
The smart home control system is more popular with companies than individuals since these systems require maintenance and after-sale support. For commercial businesses, the economic profit is larger because they establish long-term maintenance contracts. However, it is expected that within three to five years the number of smart homes will increase amongst individual customers particularly in Riyadh and Jeddah where the number is expected to increase ten-fold.
The interest in the concept of smart homes has increased in light of reports that the telecommunication company and others seek to draft specifications for these buildings and at the same time replace these technologies in the economic and industrial cities that are under construction and to begin contracting with companies and consultants in this field.
Engineer Faisal al Fadel objects to the use of the term “smart homes” as intelligence should be attributed to the human mind rather than the products of the mind. He insists that it is an obsolete word in architecture and emerged from the real estate market. He affirmed that the fact that architects are not consulted is the reason behind the decrease of suitable buildings that are able to employ modern systems and technologies.
“What is taking place at present is that there is no authorised body to review infrastructures and methods of construction. The customer goes directly to the contractor who carries out the construction in a traditional manner and is not interested in the added value of the building such as its suitability to smart home control systems, which is usually a task assumed by an architect,” he added.
Al Fadel indicated that “Consequently, there are no smart homes or experienced consultants because customers are not willing to resort to their services even though it entails nothing more than specifications on paper that are drawn up by an architect, giving the building more added value than anything that a contractor could provide.”
Experts argue that the challenges that face the spread of smart homes in the Saudi market – despite that there is an increasing interest in these homes and the added value that they entail within the real estate market according to the experts – lie in the lack of architects and specialized contractors to carry out these projects in comparison to steady constructional growth, in addition to the scarcity of cadres and knowledge.
In reference to the challenges facing the spread of smart homes, Hani Telal Bakr further stressed the lack of qualified specialists in dealing with smart home control systems. He further states that real estate developers may struggle to find sufficient contractors in the future to implement the smart home control systems.
It is worth mentioning that a number of Saudi companies have begun to implement smart home control systems in a specific number of residential projects in various parts of the kingdom. These houses use modern technology to open and close doors and windows, to switch lights on and off, to record the times of entry and exit, to adjust the temperature of the house and so on and so forth, all by virtue of a computer, which is considered the mind of the smart home.
One Saudi company has proposed 120 villas in one local district of Riyadh that could be classified as “smart homes”.