The transition to an all-IP network, with the related growth in services and applications, has made it possible for a single provider to offer and/or control essentially all the services a home owner needs. These services include video, voice and broadband, of course, but also cover home security, heating and cooling, electricity, health care, home office networking and essentially anything else that is electronic and needs to be controlled.
The reality, though, is that the most prominent service provider presence in the home is the set-top box (STB) usually placed there by the cable operators, though many are distributed by telephone and satellite companies.
The challenge is upgrading those devices from being video-centric to encompassing the whole house. The device, in whatever form it takes, must be ecumenical. An increasingly popular approach is to embed STB functionality into gateways. These devices, as the name implies, quarterback everything in the home.
SNL Kagan Multimedia Research Group said this week that 24 million gateways will ship in 2017. That, according to a report on the study at Telecompetitor, is a fourfold jump from last year’s shipment of 7.7 million units. In the press release, analyst Mike Paxton points out that quite a bit of growth can still be had: Home media gateways this year represent only 4 percent of total STB shipments.
A second study, reported upon at Light Reading, was issued by Infonetics Research. Writer Alan Breznick says that the firm expands the definition of gateways to include wireless technology. The report says that global vendor revenue rose 6 percent in the first half of this year to $5.4 billion, compared to the first half of 2012. Most of the growth is in devices that use the Multimedia Over Coax (MoCA) standard favored by cable operators.
Deploying the home gateway itself is only part of the challenge. These devices must be able to support all that is going on in homes. Qualcomm is taking a stab at the market. GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham describes new processors that are designed for home gateways. For some reason, she doesn’t name the processors. She links to an AnandTech story that identifies them as the IPQ8064 and IPQ8062.
The idea, according to Higginbotham, is that traffic in homes is growing to a point where current approaches may stumble:
In an interview last week Amir Faintuch, president, Qualcomm Atheros, explained that because of all the bandwidth consuming devices in the consumer home, processing all those requests is creating network bottlenecks that are more common in data centers. For the user, this means that your Netflix stream might not be bogging down because you don’t have the bandwidth, but because your router just can’t manage as many simultaneous streams.
The processors will be in products next year. Toward the end of the story, Higginbotham says she is unsure if the bottlenecks Qualcomm is planning against are current or anticipated.
Another bit of news from the sector is that Revolv, which makes a residence-managing iPhone app called the Smart Home Solution, has secured $4 million in funding. The round is led by The Foundry Group and American Family Insurance, according to the Boulder County Business Report.
The concept of controlling home electronics from a central source is fairly straightforward and the need is obvious. However, the ways of accomplishing this task—from hardware/software gateways to iPhone apps—are broad and diffuse. It should be fun watching this important category define itself.