Plenty of Offerings Vie to Control Home Networks

Carl Weinschenk
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The Impact of Technology on e-Commerce Over the Past Decade

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.

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Nov 28, 2013 5:32 PM Dave Borgioli Dave Borgioli  says:
(Part 1 of 2) Hello Carl, Thank you for this article. It is thought provoking and logically could lead to a series of follow up articles. The household is becoming more and more integrated to the digital world, just like our cars, aircraft, and society as a whole. In cars, the engines were the first to be digitized but now suspensions, stereos, satnav, phones, door locks, etc. are all connected. So too is it with the house. In the telephony world ten years ago or so, they were talking about convergence. In the home today the TV, stereo, and computer are well on their way to convergence. Likewise home security systems are pretty far along that path. Other appliances such as home phone systems, refrigerators, etc. are on the cusp of widespread digitization. Perhaps a good article is one which discusses these specific applications. I just read a good article on www.MoneyMorning.com about the hacking risks for the newest digitally connected autos (http://moneymorning.com/2013/11/27/the-next-big-cyber-weapon-your-car/). This could yield some good thoughts about protecting oneself and providing for redundancies. Reply
Nov 28, 2013 5:46 PM Dave Borgioli Dave Borgioli  says:
(Part 2 of 2) The naysayers will fret about the risks, social downsides, etc. however the fact remains that this trend is moving forward inexorably. This provides us with a lot of opportunities. In particular, homeowners who wish to be a part of this will often need support with setting up and managing their equipment and networks. These opportunities will also include risk management as well as the training of appliance repairmen. There is another up and coming aspect to this that is currently in its infancy; robotics. As the technology becomes more sophisticated and widespread, we will see more and more robots at work. Everyone knows about Roomba, but how long before the lawnmower is automated to some extent? What about snow blowers, home health aids, dog walkers, etc. Someone will need to service and integrate these too. The digitization of the home is not talked about much in our industry, but it is to us what the digitization of the workplace was several tens of years ago. Another benefit of this is that much of the work cannot be outsourced to other countries or even other towns in the U.S. It is an interesting time we live in, and one of opportunity. Reply

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