Reading stories about the proliferation of home area networks (HANs), Cisco's moves to bring video conferencing more fully into people's dens and living rooms and related things raises two interesting questions. One of the questions is very practical, and the other is a more esoteric. But, in the long run, both are extremely important.
First the Cisco and HAN news: Mercury News reports that Cisco is trying to compensate for a reduction in the business market by being more active in the consumer market. It points as evidence to the purchase of Pure Digital Technologies. It also could have gone much further, back to the company's acquisition of Linksys six years ago. Clearly, these companies employ strategic planners for a reason.
The HAN market, of course, also puts an emphasis on the premise. I looked at the parameters of this very competitive and roiling industry segment late last month. Significant green things can be accomplished by controlling energy use in the home. But digging deep enough to have at least a rudimentary two-way conversation with a home's appliances and utilities clearly demands a level of granularity unheard of in the past.
The practical question, therefore, is what impact the movement into the home will have on overall network capacity and demand. The more philosophical question is whether the increasing emphasis on the home-be it in the form of IP video, in all its incarnations, or energy management-is gradually changing the very nature of Internet.
The impact on the telecommunications network will be great. Most of this will come from the tidal wave of video. The bandwidth needed to instruct the home network to turn a thermostat lower or schedule a clothes dryer to turn on in the middle of the night is negligible. Streaming video from a child's summer camp to his or her home -- and from there two sets of grandparents and an assortment of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends -- isn't. The great increase in bandwidth demand that vendors, service providers and other insiders talk about will be driven more by homes than businesses.
The answer to the question of whether the nature of the Net is changing is a resounding "yes." That's nothing new, of course. It has changed gradually since its inception. Now, the move is from big to small. Initially, enterprises with tens or hundreds of thousands of users were the low-hanging fruit for vendors and service providers. The big accounts gradually got locked in and the market stabilized. Simultaneously, the technology evolves and becomes cheaper, thereby becoming more viable for the ecosystem to aggressively go after the small- and medium-sized market. This process of market stabilization and technological refinement eventually repeats itself. This time around, homes and tiny businesses find themselves in the limelight.
Of course, the reality is that all markets are addressed at once. This ordering simply refers to the main thrust of bigger vendors. The emergence of the HAN market-which was given a convenient boost by the green movement -- and Cisco's emphasis on residential video are signs that the spotlight is homeward bound.