Don't Patronize Home Users

Carl Weinschenk

Network providers and IT equipment vendors target three groups. One is the enterprise and the second is small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The third, home users, is growing in importance. It can be subdivided into small office home office (SOHO) and consumer segments.


There is nothing new about that thought, but it's interesting to see how the landscape is evolving. It is still unclear precisely what the Venn diagram describing the competitive situation will look like, but the circles certainly seem to be shifting rapidly.


Perhaps we are being swayed by the coverage of the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but it seems that there is a lot of action at the consumer/SOHO end. Various categories of gear previously only present in an enterprise increasingly can be found in the home. Two interrelated drivers of this trend are the across-the-board acceptance of the IP networking protocol and the increasing savviness of users.


Indeed, user sophistication appears to be growing quickly. For instance, this MIT Technology Review piece points to the growth of media gateways that merge wired and wireless networks in the home. Another example, outlined in this BusinessWeek story, points to rapidly growing sophistication and production quality of video blog (vlogs).


Vendors, service providers and retailers better pay attention. The line between consumer and professional gear that we've said in this past is porous shows signs of disappearing altogether. Much of what people are doing in their homes is new, and mimics what has been done in the enterprise for years.


Combining wired and wireless signals through a media gateway is new. Uploading sophisticated podcasts to YouTube and other sites is new. Guarding telecommuters' networks more carefully because they may afford hackers an open path to the data center is new. Guarding data in the home more carefully to comply with regulatory rules and regulations is new.


This is a good thing for carriers and vendors if they approach it correctly. Lesson one is not to patronize consumers. It's important that vendors don't make the mistake that many made when the SMB market emerged a couple of years ago. At that point, some companies took gear that was aimed at enterprises and cosmetically "dumbed it down" for SMBs. That wasn't the best approach: A network and the equipment that sits on it must be customized for the sector it serves.

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