Home Analysis The agnostic heart of the Smart Home

The agnostic heart of the Smart Home

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Agnosticism and ubiquity are two words that are both highly relevant for the emerging smart home that will deliver an expanding range of services enabled by broadband Internet delivery and local connectivity, especially wireless. The traditional triple play ingredients of TV, voice and Internet access will be at the core of these new services, which will expand to include other important elements such as home security but also environmental control and in the slightly longer term remote health care with huge life changing potential. The term fifth play is now often used to denote these new smart home services that will feature increasingly in the portfolios of broadband and pay TV service providers over the coming years.

It is becoming clear in this expansive and increasingly complex environment that broadband and TV service providers are going to need a range of platforms to address the diverse smart home market. Some will naturally concentrate on certain aspects of the smart home, but it may well turn out to be something of a winner takes all market in that the services will all hang off a single broadband pipe, and in fact depend on software and data integration within the cloud. But as the range of services expand and diversify, the need for a box in the home as a centre of control and integration locally will become all the more apparent. This is where our two words come in. There will be growing demand for ubiquity in the sense that the platform must embrace all the emerging fifth play options as well as the core TV or Internet access. At the same time there will be a demand for flexibility in being able to configure the platform for varying requirements. Not all homes will want all the fifth play options, certainly not in the shorter term. Some may be interested in home security, while others might just want to implement smart metering.

There is also a range of requirements in terms of traditional pay TV or broadband services, from conventional set tops to powerful gateways acting as home media centers. It would be wasteful and inefficient to have a one size fits all platform to fulfil all these requirements, and this is where the agnosticism comes in. Operators will want a range of hardware to meet the diverse needs of the smart home, but will also want to have a consistent software platform, preferably from a single vendor, that can cover all their requirements. Having just a single source of software reduces support costs and avoids complex integration since that is taken care of by the vendor.

A common software home platform and established relationships with hardware companies can address this huge market that is only now really is emerging. Companies like SoftAtHome have different implementations of their platform to meet the principle requirements at this stage for Customer Premise Equipment such as the STB, gateway, and retail devices like connected TV, smartphones and tablets in the video, TV, telecoms and smart home sectors.

For broadcasters, enabling hybrid Broadcast and OTT beyond-media services is key. But Telcos care more about gateways supporting access and broadband services. IP set top boxes make sense for both OTT and managed services for a wider range of operators. Maximum ubiquity can also be achieved with a single box that combines services.

The key point is that hardware agnosticism enables an ecosystem with a range of partners to develop these boxes covering between them most of the platforms needed for digital home services today. This same agnosticism ensures quick response to give operators first mover advantage as new opportunities arise in the smart home. The end result of the agnosticism is ubiquity, since between them platforms can cover all the variants of the smart home, in either one or several devices.

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Philip Hunter
Science and technology writer and journalist. Ability to cover complex subjects either in depth or for general audience. Clients include Prospect Magazine, European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) Reports, published by Wiley-Blackwell, Engineering & Technology magazine, BBC Focus magazine, and Cable & Satellite International.