Broadband Wireless and the Connected Home: Telecom Council Meeting Review

Introduction

This article covers the wireless networking aspects of the Connected Home – both inside and out. It is primarily based on the Telecom Council’s[1] May 14, 2009 meeting titled, “The Connected Home: Services and Models.” Trends in delivery of multiple residential services, mobile broadband, home networking, and remote access to the connected home are examined. We also highlight a few related news items from Sling Media (now Echo Star) and Motorola. 

In advance of the meeting, the Telecom Council published the following statement:   "The PC, the TV, the Internet and the home are converging in a very real way. Real products launched into the market don’t just blur the lines between TV and PC, but in fact make it increasingly clear that any screen is fair game for any content, and the service will come from both broadcast, uni-cast, and from within the home. Of course, screens and media are just a part of the Connected Home. Media sharing, photo display, home security, fixed phones, cameras, HVAC control, entry control, family organization and communication, are all becoming inextricably entwined."

While we are skeptical that all the consumer electronics in the home will be connected to each other any time soon, we were aware that mobile devices are now remotely accessing TVs (Sling Box), and will soon be accessing video content on DVRs, and videos/photos/ images stored on a home based file server.   This trend will likely accelerate with the growth of mobile broadband networks.
 
Presentations and Discussion
 
Gabriel Sidhom, CTO of Orange Labs (South San Francisco) and VP Technology for France Telecom R&D provided Orange/FT’s perspective on delivering multiple services to the home via an integrated IP network. Orange/FT provides fixed and mobile telecom services in France, U.K., Spain, Poland, Africa and the Middle East. They see mobile broadband and IPTV growing at annual rates of 70% and 66% respectively in the countries where they provide services. 
 
A key point is that broadband growth is coming from services- both triple- play to the home, mobile data and video.
 
Rob Hull, Vice President – Business Development, British Telecom offered his views on “The Mass Market Digital Home.” Rob shared what BT had learned from the video services (e.g. broadcast digital video, VoD and PVR) they provide to residential customers:
 
  1. The mass market is considerably behind the early adopters.
  2. Selling the concept is harder then selling the box (e.g. STB).
  3. Customers expect SPs to provide excellent customer service.
  4. Don’t try to pre-empt what customer’s want.
Mr. Hull listed several requirements for Digital Home 2.0:
 
  • Access networks with sufficient speed to support all the equipment/ devices in the networked home
  • High speed home network coverage for the entire home (wireless repeaters may be needed for large home networks
  • Ubiquitous access to content: in-home on different devices; outside of the home
  • Monitoring services: energy, people, home security
  • Easy to set up and manage (considered critically important for success)
  • Inexpensive enough for mass market adoption
Gary Iosbaker, Distinguished Technologist, Hewlett Packard presented his company’s strategy and vision for the connected home and remote access to it.   A few very important industry trends:
 
  • Broadband communications has gained critical mass
  • On-line content is exploding
  • Communications and entertainment services are converging
  • Home networks are growing in number and in connected equipment devices
  • Mobile Internet- independent of access technology and devices
  • Mass customization will be required
  • Centralized home storage and connected devices will enable sharing of content and services from within or outside the home (eventually from anywhere there is an end to end broadband connection).
  • Uploads of photos, multi-media images, and videos will continue to grow very rapidly (placing new demands on upstream bandwidth)
  • New services will be created for uploading and downloading user content to/from the connected home.
Mr. Iosbaker made what was perhaps the most interesting remark during this Telecom Council meeting: remote users will access home digital storage via broadband wireless networks– on their smart phones, new gadgets, and/or notebook and netbook PCs.  Mobile WiMAX and LTE were seen driving this capability to access any home information from anywhere. 
 
This capability exists now to some degree with Slingbox remote TV access (see What’s New With Sling below). I’ve heard that a few “geek-like” users had a home network set-up whereby they were able to remotely view pre-recorded TV programs on a DVR from their mobile phones or notebook/ netbooks.
 
Chris Dobrec, Senior Director – Strategy & Business Development, Cisco talked about home networks and consumer networking gear. Home networking and entertainment has become a $3.5B business for Cisco, with their acquisitions of Linksys (WiFi routers) and Scientific Atlanta (STB). The company has announced several additional networked consumer electronics initiatives at the CES earlier this year and is advertising this theme on popular media like TV commercials . 
 
Mr. Dobrec sees a “media enabled home,” with many connected devices and equipment. These include: TVs, DVRs, PCs, game consoles, smart phones, networked audio, MP3 players, storage devices, media servers, IP cameras, and other gadgets. He says that the average number of devices on a home network is approaching a half dozen in broadband homes.  But early adopters have many more than that. Chris thinks of himself as a Home Network CTO.  He has 18 devices on his home network!
 
According to Mr. Dobrec, the devices and equipment on a home network will not only share a broadband wide area connection (as they do now via WiFi), but also they will also connect with one another. Can this really happen with the proliferation of home networking technologies? Chris says yes and Cisco will make it real! He indicated that Cisco is making home network converter boxes that have the capabilities of multi-protocol home network PHY and DL layer translation and routing. They plan to support Ethernet over twisted pair, WiFi (including 802.11n), HPNA, MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance), and BoPL (Broadband over Power Lines). Not all the technologies will be available in the same converter box, but some of these boxes are now available and being sold.
 
In conjunction with their Clearwire partnership, Cisco is developing Mobile WiMAX/ Wi-Fi devices that extend its Linksys line of home network routers. The devices, expected later this year for the CLEAR 4G Mobile WiMAX service, will be marketed to consumers, small office/home office, and small-to-midsize business users. We now expect those devices will essentially be WiFi to USB converters that require an external WiMAX modem or USB dongle to access the CLEAR network. We hope they will soon contain an integrated WiMAX radio and air interface.
 
What’s New With Sling?
 
No discussion about broadband access for the connected home would be complete without examining the Sling Box. For the last five years, this device, has allowed users to pipe all their existing cable and satellite TV channels onto the Internet and then to any computer or smart phone with a broadband connection.   In 2007, Sling Media was quietly acquired by satellite TV company EchoStar. Soon thereafter, Echostar split itself into two public companies: the Dish Networks for consumer TV business, and the Echostar Corporation, which owns Sling and is devoted to developing and licensing digital equipment for the television industry.
 
Sling also offers cable and satellite companies an easy way to get television to a variety of mobile devices without having to develop specific video services for each. Sling recently released a $29.99 application for the Apple iPhone, for example, although AT&T insisted that it work only over WiFi, and not over the carrier’s 3G network. AT&T said it feared that Sling’s streaming video could hog its bandwidth and lead to dropped calls.
 
This summer, Dish Networks plans to offer a set-top box embedded with Sling’s features to its 14 million subscribers across the country. Called the Sling Loaded HD DVR ViP 922, it will be offered to subscribers for $199.   Later, EchoStar plans to license Sling technology to other satellite and cable TV operators and consumer electronics companies. If successful, the concept of “place shifting” or “Slinging” shows to any device or PC could become a standard feature of most high-end cable TV set top boxes.
 
For more on this topic, please see:

Slipstream: From TV to the Web to Your Phone

Motorola enters embedded consumer device market with broadband wireless data cards

Manufacturers looking to take advantage of the increased speeds offered by 3G and 4G mobile broadband wireless networks such as WiMAX, HSPA and LTE can soon add off the shelf Motorola PCIe data cards into their notebooks, netbooks, portable gaming devices and other networked consumer electronics.
 
Motorola sees embedded wireless as a potential goldmine down the road. According to research firm Strategy Analytics, there will be 100 million devices with 3G or 4G technology embedded in them by 2014.
 
Gary Koerper, vice president of engine systems for Motorola Mobile Devices had a lot to say about Motorola’s new opportunity: "We see wireless broadband in consumer electronics being a tremendous growth opportunity not just for Motorola, but for the entire industry, In the next five to seven years everything you own will be connected to the Internet. As operators continue to deploy higher speed wireless networks to accommodate for growing consumer demand for mobility, there are opportunities for manufacturers and operators to roll out a wide range of low-power consumer electronics to enhance today’s mobile lifestyles. We look forward to working with the leaders in the wireless broadband ecosystem to incorporate high-speed broadband into more devices."
 
A variety of circuit cards will be offered:
 
  • The Motorola WTM1100 is an IEEE 802.16e Wave 2 compliant, single-band Half Mini-PCIe wireless network adapter that operates in the 2.5 GHz or 3.5 GHz spectrum for WiMAX connectivity.
  • The Motorola HTM1000, a 3G/2G HSPA, EDGE and GPRS Half Mini-PCIe WWAN adapter that supports HSPA data rates up to 10.1 Mbps downlink and 5.76 Mbps uplink.
  • The Motorola offers the LTM1000 single-mode LTE card, which is capable of speeds up to 100Mbps downlink and 50Mbps uplink. All three products conform to the PCIe revision 1.2 standard. 
For more information, please see this press release:
 
Conclusions:
 
Home networking with broadband Internet access should be a major growth area in the converged world of computing, communications and entertainment.  We can expect to see lots more innovation in the connected home and remote (especially mobile) access to it. But first we need media and storage servers to be present in home networks and web addressable as if they were a web server on the Internet. Watch HP for new technology in this area. 
 
The idea of multi-protocol home network routers is very enticing, given the plethora of home networking wireless and wire-line standards (WiFi, Ethernet, MoCA, BoPL, etc). We expect Cisco to be the leader in this market segment. 
 
Keep your eye on Sling technology being embedded in new set top boxes and mobile applications for smart phones.  It will be interesting to see if EchoStar can successfully license their technology to other satellite, cable TV, or telco video providers.
 
Finally, we expect Motorola’s new wireless PCIe data cards to accelerate time to market for many new mobile and wireless devices for consumers.

[1] The Telecom Council (www.telecomcouncil.com) meets regularly to discuss key business issues for telecom decision makers. Carriers and their venture capital divisions located in Silicon Valley are the principal members (the Council was formerly known as the Service Provider Forum).

 

0 thoughts on “Broadband Wireless and the Connected Home: Telecom Council Meeting Review

  1. Very comprehensive and informative article without any commercials!

    However, I think the connected home is science fiction rather than fact. We not only need storage and media servers, but unified home networking standards and software that would enable and maintain device to device in-home communication (assuming all end point devices are IP addressable). That would be the equivalent of a home based Intranet. We also need software to enable remote access to home based storage/media servers from mobile phones and netbook/notebook PCs.

  2. I’m not sure about the business model for the connected home. Will it all be done by the user, i.e. “the Home CTO” or will the broadband service provider play a major role?

    My implementation of the connected home is very primitive, but even with a WiFi AP/Router there are still far too many wires and plugs cluttering up my living room (along with stacks of paper).

  3. Great article, very well written with a lot of practical and useful information. Glad you emphasized provider experiences and growth projections rather than their products or service offerings.

    I also wonder who will maintain the home network. I could see a network operator being responsible, but only if it as an extension of triple or quad play services. But what about the rest of us that use multiple providers? Will home network systems integration firms sprout up and take over this domain? Or will it be the provider of the home networking gear itself, e.g. Cisco? Or some combination of the above? There certainly is the potential for a lot of finger pointing.

  4. Excellent article and very relevant comments. As more gadgets/devices/PC/TVs are able to communicate with each other in “the connected home,’ the management and problem resolution will be a daunting task.

  5. Echo the comments about this great article. Especially liked the lessons learned and “soft market” info.

    I’m very skeptical about home networked devices talking to each other directly. Won’t there need to be a server/switch to make that happen?

    And I wonder what HP will do to enable mobile devices to easily access file servers, PCs, DVRs, etc on the home network. What are they planning in this market space? While HP sells a lot of PCs, they are not noted for home networking. Where is Cisco, Netgear, and D-Link in this connected home market?

    A

  6. I was at the event covered in the article, and may have some answers and comments.

    Many people asking “who will manage the home network” and “what will be the standards and software that make it all work”. I’ve got no complete answers, because like any other ecosystem, there are fragmented and diverse solutions. Because of this free market approach, it will take time to shake out the winners, then standardize and make good solutions around them. But it’s not like we haven’t made awesome progress. Take Ethernet for example, it’s an incredible standards, and pretty much universally accepted. We wouldn’t even be having a “connected home” discussion were it not for Ethernet. Then take Wi-Fi. The b, g, and n versions have done a great deal for getting connected devices into homes without Ethernet CAT5 cabling – albeit with mixed reliability results. It still is a phenomenally successful standard that has lowered costs and put products on shelves like wifi phones, wifi cameras, game consoles, picture frames, laptops, tables, netbooks, NAS, printers, phones, IM devices, and more. Please let’s not take that for granted.

    Then we have the less refined standards to move content and data around the home like DLNA and UPnP. These can work, but don’t always interoperate too well. Then, there’s plenty of companies trying to go it alone, like Apple with the AppleTV or Sonos with their music distribution solutions.

    Then we have a bunch of ultra low power home control standards duking it out for supremacy, including Zigbee and its ilk. The winners have yet to be determined, so the market isn’t yet developed.

    So who manages the connected home? I think this answer will never be standardized. It depends. How much does a resident want to be the home CTO, if so, they can build their own solutions. If not, then they can allow a service provider to come in and offer a package. The electric utility will provide smart meters and thermostats. The telco might provide a triple play and security service with intrusion and cameras (Surewest already does). Portals, Internet companies, and device companies like Yahoo, Vonage, Cisco/Linksys might offer a starter package. And Redmond is always searching for a dominant role in the connected home. Google is trying to get Android into all kinds of home devices. The battle lines are being drawn, we’ve a long way to go.

    But bear this in mind: if nobody at the home wants the job of Home CTO, then there will surely be a service provider that will offer you that as a service. They will push in a standard bundle, and charge a monthly fee for support and maintenance. The telcos used to offer this with home phones and wiring. Service providers love this. It creates stickiness, loyalty, and a recurring revenue which can be mass produced – so long as you stick with the standard package of connected home services. Deviate or add to the standard bundle, and you self support that add-on.

    “[we need] storage and media servers, but unified home networking standards and software that would enable…” NAS is cheap and plentiful, Ethernet and Wifi answer the second part. There are many gaps to fill, but those aren’t them.

    “We also need software to enable remote access to home based storage/media servers from mobile phones and netbook/notebook PCs.” Google: Sling Media, Hava, Orb.

  7. Thanks Derek for such comprehensive comments and perspective!

    While I agree that there are solutions out there, they each solve part of the connected home problems people are talking about. There seems to be a lot of software from different vendors that would be needed for a complete solution. The “connected home” seems like a great systems integration project for either a Home CTO or a professional service firm. I would expect Cisco/Linksys to take a major role here.

    What I don’t see is Netgear and D-Link involved. On June 11th, I heard Netgear CEO Patrick Lo talk about several topics including NAS, but he didn’t mention anything for the “connected home.” In fact, he said that WiFi home routers/APs were experiencing the most price pressure/ sales decline amongst all Netgear products. Haven’t heard anything from D-Link (perhaps because their main market is outside the U.S.)

  8. An extension for the connected home: Pioneer demos in-car WiMax media streaming

    Pioneer’s Network AV Playback System for Mobile uses “Community WiMax,” which is starting to see more and more widespread use, to stream multimedia content stored on a home network’s server to an in-car device, such as the portable navigation device seen in the video below.

    http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-10273003-48.html?tag=mncol

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