We speak to Nicholas Sim, Head of Connected Home Research at UK telco BT, about the evolving demands being placed on home broadband networks, and what he thinks will become the most popular Digital Home services.
What challenges do you believe the home network will face over the next few years, as a result of improving access network speeds and increasing bandwidth requirements from services that run over the home network?
There will be multiple challenges to overcome, driven by a combination of technical requirements and customer expectations. These include:
- The ability to deliver high bandwidth to multiple rooms in a home – for example, to enable concurrent usage of HD video services, in-home streaming (using DLNA and Apple Airplay etc.) and online gaming.
- Reliability – some services will be able to mask temporary “blips” in performance, but others such as live TV and streamed gaming will require a robust connection.
- Mobility – consumers are increasingly using portable devices, so the home network will need to support “mobile” access within the home.
- Installation process and visual appearance – customers and service providers will want technologies to be as easy to install as possible, with minimal visual impact in the home.
- Ease of use – customers will be connecting multiple devices to their home networks, so making setup and configuration as easy as possible will be essential.
How do you believe these challenges can be met with existing home networking technologies?
There is no single technology (wired or wireless) that can meet all of these challenges. Cat5 cabling, for example, is reliable but doesn’t support mobility. Wi-Fi is mobile, but can never be fully reliable in every home. Powerline is easy to use but is subject to issues relating to noise and internal wiring etc.
It will therefore be necessary to use a mix of technologies to meet customers’ needs. In some cases, this may simply involve using different technologies for different applications, but there is also potential for hybrid technologies that actually combine more than one type of connectivity (Powerline and Wi-Fi, for example).
How do you think home networks will need to evolve to meet user and service provider needs?
There will be two major requirements: a great ability to manage traffic across multiple home networking technologies, in order to overcome the limitations of each individual link; and great visibility for service providers of performance levels and issues within the home.
At present, it is very difficult to diagnose problems relating to a customer’s home network remotely, and it is also difficult for customers themselves to track down these issues.
What do you think will become the most popular Digital Home services for consumers?
The most popular services will be entertainment-based, as these are universal. The ability to view personal and premium multimedia on multiple devices around the home is already starting to be adopted, through capabilities such as Airplay, and DLNA-based multi-room TV services such as that offered by DirecTV in the US.
Smart Home services such as home automation, energy management and security will find a market, but this is likely to be significantly smaller. The key to ensuring take-up and profitability will be to ensure that the underlying technology is shared between these services wherever possible.