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The smart home wouldn't exist without this '90s invention

por Zara Graff (2020-11-09)

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This story is part of CNET at 25, celebrating a quarter century of industry tech and our role in telling you its story.

Brett Pearce/CNET
In a Washington Post article published Nov. 3, 1990, author H. Jane Lehman predicted that the coming decade would bring a new wave of home automation. Decades before it became widespread, she even used the phrase "smart home." But she also said that something was missing: "What the home automation community is waiting for is an industry standard that would tell builders and remodelers how to wire homes for total automation."But connecting a smart home with wires wouldn't be the standard the industry was waiting for. No one knew it at the time, but Lehman and everyone else was really waiting for Wi-Fi

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Without Wi-Fi, the smart home industry wouldn't exist. And without reliable Wi-Fi, today's smart home wouldn't work. That's why establishing a solid wireless setup is always the first thing CNET recommends when someone asks how to get started with smart home tech. That's why I'm taking you back to the mid-1990s to celebrate CNET's 25th year of being, well, CNET -- and the late '90s invention that made the smart home possible: Wi-Fi. Read more: These 8 products inspired the smart home revolutionBut first, what is the smart home?The  is a broad term that applies to pretty much any device that works with your ,  or . Despite the wide variety of products in the category -- ranging from  to  and  -- they all share a common goal: to simplify your daily life.

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Physical stores and online retailers alike have curated "smart home" sections nowadays, 120825360 dedicated to this seemingly incongruous mishmash of home appliances. And smart devices are popular -- 69% of US homes report owning at least one, according to a 2018 survey by research firm Traqline. The smart home as we now know it didn't really take off until the 2010s, but it's been predicted for much longer. A quick search of ads from the 1950s and '60s yields countless examples of autonomous robots and other visions of the future that have since become a reality. And, while slow cookersprogrammable thermostats and other "non-smart" devices may not count as smart home devices by modern standards, they have helped us automate aspects of our lives for decades.There were even early whole-home automation systems that tied into phone lines. But Wi-Fi, the "industry standard" that would enable wireless connectivity and automation in a whole new way, wouldn't be introduced until 1997