Intelligent Mobility at Home and On-the-go Key Element of Digital Life

10 September 2014

It is breathtaking to consider the short amount of time it has taken for the concept of “mobility” to evolve from being an ancillary tool of productivity and convenience, to becoming a vital part of our day-to-day lives. Today, companies that have not “mobile- optimized” their infrastructures, applications, business processes – even their employee- and customer-facing websites – face an array of marketplace risks and missed opportunities that can be measured in the hundreds of millions – perhaps even billions – of dollars.

“In home environments, the situation is even more urgent. Consumers are increasingly disinterested in physically connecting their growing number of smart personal assets (including smart phones, tablets and wearable devices) to communication networks,” says Bart Vercammen, Vice President of Product Management for WiFi Doctor at Technicolor.

Indeed, consumers grudgingly concede the need to plug their technologies for the purposes of re-charging the batteries. And even this function is destined to be replaced by “tetherless” solutions.”

“The bottom line,” says Danny Lousberg, Director of Product Management for Qeo at Technicolor, “is that people do not want to be tied down. They want their devices and applications to automatically connect, interact and interoperate as seamlessly and as intuitively as possible.”

It is a tall order, and one which carries significant technological implications that will require investments in both infrastructure, expertise and – perhaps most importantly – industry-wide collaboration.

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It is breathtaking to consider the short amount of time it has taken for the concept of “mobility” to evolve from being an ancillary tool of productivity and convenience, to becoming a vital part of our day-to-day lives. Today, companies that have not “mobile- optimized” their infrastructures, applications, business processes – even their employee- and customer-facing websites – face an array of marketplace risks and missed opportunities that can be measured in the hundreds of millions – perhaps even billions – of dollars.

“In home environments, the situation is even more urgent. Consumers are increasingly disinterested in physically connecting their growing number of smart personal assets (including smart phones, tablets and wearable devices) to communication networks,” says Bart Vercammen, Vice President of Product Management for WiFi Doctor at Technicolor.

Indeed, consumers grudgingly concede the need to plug their technologies for the purposes of re-charging the batteries. And even this function is destined to be replaced by “tetherless” solutions.”

“The bottom line,” says Danny Lousberg, Director of Product Management for Qeo at Technicolor, “is that people do not want to be tied down. They want their devices and applications to automatically connect, interact and interoperate as seamlessly and as intuitively as possible.”

It is a tall order, and one which carries significant technological implications that will require investments in both infrastructure, expertise and – perhaps most importantly – industry-wide collaboration.

Mobile/smart device adoption trends

To grasp the challenge, consider the exploding volume of devices that global consumers today are likely to carry. In 2013, the worldwide smartphone market reached a major milestone; over one billion units were shipped in a single year for the first time. According to analysts at IDC, vendors shipped 38.4 percent more units than the 725.3 million units brought to market in 2012.

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“The sheer volume and strong growth attest to the smartphone’s continued popularity in 2013,” says Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phone team. “Total smartphone shipments reached 494.4 million units worldwide in 2011, and doubling that volume in just two years demonstrates strong end- user demand and vendor strategies to highlight smartphones.”

Beyond phones, however, is the rapid rise of new mobile form factors. Gartner, for instance, projects worldwide combined shipments of devices (PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones) to reach 2.5 billion units in 2014, a 7.6 percent increase from 2013.

“The device market continues to evolve, with buyers deciding which combination of devices is required to meet their wants and needs…users continue to move away from the traditional PC (notebooks and desk-based) as it becomes more of a shared content creation tool, while the greater flexibility of tablets, hybrids and lighter notebooks address users’ increasingly different demands,” says Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner.

Then you have the rapid maturation of the wearable technology market. IDC reports that this segment is finally expanding beyond early adopter status to more functional and stylish lifestyle accessories. Shipment volumes are expected to exceed 19 million units in 2014, more than tripling last year’s sales. From there, the global market will swell to 111.9 million units in 2018, resulting in a CAGR of 78.4 percent.

Complex accessories (such as Nike+ FuelBand, Jawbone UP, and Fitbit devices) will lead the wearables market through 2018 as users continue to embrace their simplicity and low price points. These devices are designed to operate partially independent of any other device, but fully operate when connected with IP- capable devices such as a smartphone, tablet, or a PC.

“Complex accessories have succeeded in drawing much-needed interest and attention to a wearables market that has had some difficulty gaining traction,” says IDC’s Llamas. “The increased buzz has prompted more vendors to announce their intentions to enter this market. Most importantly, end-users have warmed to their simplicity in terms of design and functionality, making their value easy to understand and use.”

Another segment of the market, smart accessories, will gain momentum through the forecast period and surpass complex accessory shipments by 2018. Similar to complex accessories, with their dependence on connecting with IP-capable devices, smart accessories allow users to add third-party applications that boost features and functions for a more robust experience. While not quite ready for prime time, the smart accessory market will continue to mature as users better understand and accept the value proposition and vendors refine their offerings.

“What this segment does represent, however, is a very vital link between developments in mobile device technology and the equally dynamic Internet of Things (IoT),” says Technicolor’s Lousberg.

Smart homes become a bandwidth intensive communications hub

“The net effect of these trends in mobile device adoption, is that the amount – and complexity – of traffic that must be managed by wireless local-area networks (LANs) in the home is exploding,” says Technicolor’s Vercammen.

This is challenging traditional notions of throughput management (how much data can be effectively moved through wireless and wired “pipes”). Perhaps more importantly, the trend also introduces an array of issues that can affect performance and the user experience (such as devices whose signals interfere with each other and/or signal strength levels as consumers move around the home).

Addressing these challenges effectively, however, is the key to achieving success in what is a truly high-stakes game.

Analysts at Juniper Research believe that revenues generated from Smart Home services will achieve a global market value of $71 billion by 2018, rising from $33 billion in 2013. Recent analysis from this group found that nearly 80 percent of total Smart Home service revenues will come from entertainment services by the end of the forecast period. This growth is being spurred on the supply side by the emergence of high-profile OTT (Over-The-Top) content providers such as Netflix, LOVEFiLM and Amazon Instant Video, while demand is being further fuelled by mass adoption of Internet-connected TVs.

Even though the smart TV market is just beginning to take hold, the Set-Top Box and the console remain popular options for users to connect their TVs to the Internet and access both subscription services as well as ultra-high definition (UHD) content from pay- per-view, download-to-own and rental services.

Colliding trends

This is where a deep breath is in order to consider the implications of these colliding trends.

  • There is a soaring the number of wireless-enabled devices that will be owned and actively used (often concurrently) by each consumer. Demand for device access to network resources will not discriminate as consumers are at home, on-the-go or in the office.
  • The entertainment industry is the first of many sectors that will be motivated to bring content-rich experiences (including high-end video and audio).
  • Consumers will not want to be forced by external parties to choose a dedicated device to access services or applications. They have demonstrated an increasing desire to use whatever form factor is most convenient based on any number of behavioral or environmental circumstances.

This means that rich content must not only be delivered to the big-screen TV, but also be accessible by wireless tablets, smart phones or an immersive wearable device (such as Oculus Rift). This, in turn, suggests that an immense amount of complex traffic is destined to travel over the home WiFi network.

Key success factors

Two key issues will have to be well managed if the full promise of next generation digital life experiences is to be delivered.

  • Wireless Performance: Both service providers and consumers will have to figure out how to ensure that they get the best and most consistent performance out of their wireless networks. “This is difficult, because the WiFi environment is literally invisible to the naked eye. The solution to an issue of connectivity or performance is rarely just a matter of checking a loose physical connection,” says Vercammen.
  • Device Interoperability and Application Portability: Standards and Open Source technologies must be applied to enable the complex mix of devices to connect and interoperate with each other. “The growing expectation among consumers – which is being set by the eco-system of technology developers and service providers – is that an experience can be initiated in one environment (such as a UHD TV), and then seamlessly transferred and continued on another (a tablet or wearable device) without hiccups or confusion,” says Lousberg.

Addressing these and other challenges in a manner that keeps pace with new developments in technology innovation will require engaged industry-wide coordination and collaboration.

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