Less-feted connected-home services should not be ignored

The idea of the connected home is becoming synonymous with multiroom IP video services, perhaps the hardest service to deliver to the home. IP video not only has high bandwidth requirements and is very time-sensitive, requiring low latency. And beyond technological demands, the difficulty in acquiring multiscreen rights has already threatened to derail TV Everywhere services in many markets.

To focus exclusively on delivering video to a connected home is to miss some low-hanging fruit that is technically much easier to deliver: The shift of media such as photographs and music to digital formats has yet to be truly exploited in the connected home, and they are arguably just as important to many users as video. And beyond entertainment, a less glamorous but perhaps desirable service in these times of austerity is utility monitoring. A common thread that runs across these examples is that they would put only low bandwidth demands on the home network and can already be delivered over most Wi-Fi networks.

Digital music has been mainstream for over a decade. Napster, BitTorrent, iTunes and now Spotify have encouraged users to consume music digitally. But digital music has been pushed into the ghetto of the mobile device. The popularity of docking stations for music devices is a testament to users’ desire to listen to portable music collections at home. The docking stations have fulfilled a need, but music-streaming devices – such as those from Sonos, Logitech’s Squeezebox radios and Apple’s AirPort – offer a much better experience. What both Sonos and Apple do well is sell home-networking devices to the average user – who would not typically buy such devices – by tying them to a music-streaming service.

As with music, almost all photography has moved to digital. Digital cameras – stand-alone and on smartphones – are commonplace, and users regularly upload photos from their daily lives to Facebook. And just as with music, users wish to enjoy their pictures around their home, not merely on the PC. And their photo libraries have become too large to be stored on anything other than a large hard drive or in the cloud. In response, manufacturers of digital photo frames are using DLNA functionality to sell their premium devices. Long aware of this trend, TV manufacturers have been offering a plethora of ways for users to view their photos: USB, SD cards, DLNA and, more recently, Flickr. In Austria, Aon has built an online-storage service around photo-sharing features, focusing on the ability of users to view photos on the TV.

There is certainly potential to earn significant revenues from utility monitoring. Governments are eager for monitoring to become widespread, and some are offering subsidies on devices or introducing legislation that requires a minimum service to be in place by a set date. Informa Telecoms & Media expects more than 350 million smart meters to be in service globally by 2016. Telia has already rolled out trials for home monitoring as a value-added service with its IPTV service. Although the TV is probably the least suitable device for such a service, it shows that operators are taking this market seriously. What these few examples show is that connected-home services need not reinvent the wheel. The best services and the ones most likely to succeed are those that build on and enhance what already exists in the home.

Operators should be aware that in many of these areas, they are already beginning to lag behind over-the-top providers and consumer-electronics firms. They will need to carefully select which services to pursue, not trying to cover every arena and picking those where they can gain first-mover advantage, add genuine value or build on synergies with their core services.

Can video services achieve all of these things? Undoubtedly. And the fact that the delivery of TV and video content is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year means that operators are right to concentrate on this area first. But it is not the only opportunity out there. Other services can be key in persuading users to move to a connected-home setup, creating revenues from connected-home services and equipment and stopping users from churning to competitors.

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