By Philippe Alcaras, CEO, AirTies
The set top has consistently defied rumours of its death for at least a decade now and there is still no sign of it disappearing entirely any time soon. Certainly it has shrunk in size and shed some of its functions to the cloud or even to the TV itself, but meanwhile it has been gaining others relating to the digital home. Similar predictions have also been made for wireless devices such as routers and Access Points, suggesting they will be incorporated into CPE devices rather like the STB. But here too, there are few signs of this coming to pass and it is for the same fundamental reason.
Both of them are governed by different life cycles than the alternative devices to which their functionality might otherwise be devolved. This would not matter if the functions of the STB or of Wi-Fi CPE had reached a final point of maturity so that they could be commoditized and remain ossified ever after, but that is not the case and there is no prospect of it doing so anytime in the foreseeable future. In the case of the STB, the emergence of OTT services and also smart applications based on new IoT (Internet of Things) devices have created new requirements for a presence in the home as a point of control, security and management. The STB may shrivel to a dongle or be absorbed into a broadband gateway with wider application, but it will still exist in some shape or form. It may be that DVR storage is devolved to the cloud, for example, but still with a device in the home integrating other functions, such as casting to a TV from a mobile handset or tablet.
In the case of Wi-Fi the challenge can be seen from observing the evolution of the home network. Many homes in the US in particular now have Wi-Fi combined with MoCA coaxial cable networks as a backbone to ensure whole home coverage for premium multi-room TV.
But even in that case, the ambition of fast bandwidth accessible everywhere in the home may require additional smart Wi-Fi devices.
Unlike the US, much fewer homes in Europe have existing cable presence, with the cost of installing the wires prohibitive. For this reason, innovative Wi-Fi technologies have been developed to enable whole home coverage without wires, such as AirTiesâ€™ own Mesh technology.
This saves operators a lot of money while giving consumers just as good a service as their counterparts get in the US. But with the advent of Ultra HD TV services, demand for Wi-Fi QoS and sustained high capacity throughout the home will go on rising, driving us to continue innovating, in US and in Europe.
If Wi-Fi had been embedded in the end devices with no dedicated equipment, such innovation would be inhibited by the need to replace costly CPE periodically.
The TV set in particular has a life cycle that has become increasingly out of sync with the functions it provides as it gains Internet connectivity and assumes some of the roles previously held by STBs. This led to a dilemma for makers of smart Internet-connected TVs, which was that while the screens might last a decade or more, within just a year or two they were already becoming obsolete in terms of function. Samsung developed its Smart TV Evolution kit to upgrade its TVs with new functionality as a way of overcoming this early obsolescence. Yet although elegant and unobtrusive, the kit was hardly an ideal solution, costing consumers a further $300 just to keep up with the technology curve. There is no certainty over how long it will be possible to keep on replacing these modules with new ones year after year before the TV finally cannot be upgraded any longer.
So, although smart TVs are still being made, there has been a revival in separate units that can more readily be replaced, to avoid the screens themselves becoming obsolete except in so far that display technology will continue to advance. Exactly the same holds for Wi-Fi, which is becoming the main focal point of innovation for digital home connectivity now that the fixed broadband access part has itself become more of a commodity.