Tomorrow’s home network will offer little work for the channel, writes Keith Humphreys.
Today’s home networks are a mishmash of products from a variety of suppliers and very few are designed to look good.
Their growth (Fig. 1) is being driven by the proliferation of home PCs requiring fast internet access and the convenience of wireless networks.
In the US, wireless technology has gained a slight edge over Ethernet cables in home networks. This is mainly because of growing support that the broadband service providers are giving in supplying wireless access, which stops the user having to assemble the pieces, and gives a single point of contact for support.
A recent survey showed that in the US, 52 per cent of households with a home network were using wireless technology, compared with half using Ethernet and about five per cent for power line networking via electrical wires. (The numbers don’t add up to 100 because some homes use a combination of technologies.)
The holy grail is surely a home entertainment system which does away with piles of CDs, DVDs and cables and allows the consumer to view and listen to whatever he wants, wherever in the house. Tomorrow consumer electronic devices and content will be the drivers.
One can use these to form the infrastructure for the digital home, but it is a brave person who tries to find their way around the maze of connectivity between different devices (the television, the hi-fi, the digital radio, the time-shift recorder) not to mention connecting to the outside world through the internet and the telephone system.
Before we can move from home networking to home entertainment and home automation we will have to establish some standards as currently home entertainment networks have remained proprietary and on a different technology base to home data networks (Fig 2). CeBIT saw the introduction of appliances that breached the divide but this will be replaced in the coming years by a seamless bridge between the two separate networks (Fig 3).
There seems very little prospect of standards being developed between different manufacturers from whose business come from very different sectors, for example consumer electronics and the computer industry.
Standards will evolve off the back of the dominant players, but will the leaders come from the home data market or the home entertainment industry? Cisco has identified home networking as one of its six advanced technology areas and its Linksys division has made two acquisitions in this area, this year: Sipura Technology and KiSS of Denmark.
Huawei spoke of home networking as a focus area at its analyst day in Hamburg in March, but is not an established consumer brand.
Leadership is more likely to come from Sony or any one of the many home entertainment manufacturers such as Bang & Olufsen.
Expect to see some strange partnerships and alliances in this area. Maybe we could see someone from left field grabbing the market. Apple is a possibility and has all the right credentials. The infrastructure providers could dominate – the telcos, cable companies and satellite providers (and maybe WiMAX providers) – such as with FastWeb in Italy, where the drivers are personal entertainment, intelligent devices and core services of internet access, telephony and computer backup.
A channel play exists today by performing the integration skills required to connect the variety of disparate systems but tomorrow it will be a retailer or a service provider, which supplies the home network.
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