Operators putting the smart into homes

intellegent_home_final_line_labelThis post is by Paul Bristow, VP of strategy, user experience and middleware, ADB

Triple Play Operators are always on the lookout for the next revenue opportunity. The Pay-TV market is hugely competitive, the broadband market is on a continuous speed upgrade cycle, and telephony revenues are under astonishing levels of pressure.

On the other hand a massive change, enabled by broadband, is coming.  The whole Internet of Things (IoT) has been bubbling up and is now well established in the start-up arena, enabled by low cost sensors and simplified communication protocols. The number of IP-enabled devices is exploding, with forecasts of anywhere between 12 billion and one trillion devices over the next decade or so. Being smart and IP-enabled is useless without connecting to something. It’s the intelligent use of these connected devices together that will make up what we call the smart home.

There’s enough activity in this space that there is no doubt the smart home is going to happen. The Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Beagleboard hardware/software ecosystems, amongst others, are inspiring a whole host of IoT startups, ensuring a never-ending testbed of devices and services being tried at high speed. It’s becoming easier and easier to connect dozens, hundreds or thousands of sensors using RF technology.

What’s still missing is any kind of overall system intelligence that enables you to make use of different IoT systems working in harmony. To take a really simple example, if the system knows that no-one is home, it could automatically turn out the lights. Alternatively, if your energy provider asks your smart metering system to reduce electricity consumption for a while, it might be better to switch off something other than the oven half way through cooking dinner!

To do this – to make homes really smart and not just connected – requires some kind of platform capable of linking disparate subsystems. More than that, it needs to be a complete coherent platform that specifically enables third parties to roll out services that can then link into the rest. This intelligent gateway must act as a bridging point for unrelated networking technologies and communication protocols.  Furthermore, it must act as a bridge at the software level, so that real smart applications can be deployed.

Today manufacturers and operators are providing smart home devices that act as this reference point for a subset of services, and a subset of devices. This is a natural stage in the evolution of this market but will probably not last for long.  One thing we have learned from the TV world is that consumers are reluctant to have multiple boxes for similar functionality.  It seems natural that technology convergence will continue and today’s smart home boxes will migrate into future multi-service gateways, creating a win-win situation for triple-play operators, consumers and smart home service providers.

For more information on this topic, see the industry report: From Triple-Play to Multi-Play.

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