The Connected Home World Summit held in London recently confirmed that although some areas of the connected home are starting to pick up pace, other areas have hardly moved on at all. Yes, an increasing number of devices are becoming connected, once-passive services such as TV are becoming increasingly interactive, and e-services are finally being deployed rather than just talked about. However, questions around the optimum home network technology, whether telcos should invest further in CPE, and how to actually monetize the connected home remain as unanswered as they did two years ago.
CE developments are speeding up
If the basic definition of a connected home is that consumer electronics (CE) devices are all connected not just to the external Internet but also to each other, allowing any content and service to be accessed on any device, then this can certainly be said to be starting to become a reality. Many devices in the home are now broadband enabled, and although we are a long way from any content on any device, there are an increasing number of ways to shift content from one device to another. However, the majority of such developments are coming from CE or Internet-based companies, not broadband service providers. OTT players are not only stealing or reducing future revenue opportunities, but are also making the connected home a more complicated environment for service providers to operate in. Although some standards such as DLNA could potentially help service providers gain some control, these are either not perfected or not widely distributed as yet, and if service providers are not careful the connected home could spin out of their grasp.
Service providers are becoming increasingly confused as to what customers want
One underlying theme of the conference was that what the consumer actually wants remains largely an unknown. One speaker would claim that content stored in the cloud is the way to go, while the next would claim that consumers would never accept this; one asserted that consumers will pay significant amounts of money for technical support, while others claimed they will not and there were many such examples. Some of these differences will be down to different cultures and some will be due to markets still being immature and it therefore not being clear how they will develop. However, the lack of consensus suggests that if they are to beat CE and OTT players to the more attractive opportunities service providers must remain flexible in their strategies, take risks, and be quick to react once trends become clearer.
Key questions remain unanswered
Other key questions have yet to be answered, including what technology will the future home network be built on? Physical cables such as plastic optical fibre always come up as the most future-proof option, but also the most expensive in terms of house rewiring. Powerline seems to be gaining traction once more, but it still doesnt work in every home and couldnt cope with simultaneous multiple HD streams. Then there is the ongoing issue of how to overcome the diversity of file formats and access rights to enable efficient distribution of content to multiple devices. There is no right answer, of course, and operators shouldnt look for a single killer solution but forge their own path and develop a set of options that best meet the needs of their local customer base. Unfortunately, this also only further increases the risk of backing the wrong horse.
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