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issue: February 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
Cautiously Connecting


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Tim Somheil, Editor

Home networking technology finally emerged in 2005 as affordable and widely available technology.

What is important in the long term is the less tangible expectation that this availability creates in the minds of consumers. They perceive the home network as a reality. They want it, and soon enough they'll expect everything in their home to be apart of it.

Why consumers want a home network has nothing to do with controlling white goods remotely and everything to do with entertainment. Media Center PCs are becoming less expensive and market researcher In-Stat, in its report Media Networking 2005, expects media hub features will be standard on almost all PCs before 2009.

The market is huge already. Peter King, director of the Connected Home Devices service in Strategy Analytics' Digital Consumer Practice, recently wrote the research firm's global market forecast for the period 2005 to 2010. In Quantifying The Digital Home Opportunity, King estimates that consumers around the world spent U.S. $118 billion on digital home devices in 2005, for an annual growth rate of 25 percent. That pace will continue in 2006. By 2010, the report says, 700 million connected home devices will be installed worldwide.

The devices in question fall squarely into the realm of consumer electronics, serving up audio, video, Internet, communications, games, and any other imaginable digital content, but the same networks will also enable the control of other home devices.

It's clear that the makers of white goods, HVAC and even electric housewares will be required by the market to make their products networkable at some point. But how soon? And do these OEMs have a role to play in the development of home networking right now?

Home Automation's Unfulfilled Promise

The promise of home automation for the masses was spurring interest in the appliance industry 20 years ago. In 1989, APPLIANCE was reporting on ambitious efforts by Unity Systems, Custom Command Systems, Square D, and Smart House L.P. to bring home automation within reach of the average consumer. Despite the lack of an "enabling standard," there was broad-based optimism that home automation was a big market just waiting to happen.

But it never did. Year after year, the cost of electronic controls dropped and found their way into more appliances, enabling all kinds of new functionality, and still home automation did not happen. Personal computers became commonplace. The Internet ushered in the Digital Age. And still, home automation did not happen.

But times and technology have changed, and home automation is emerging in a way that wasn't expected. Home networks are being put in place for reasons that have nothing to do with automating home equipment. These networks are here to move digital content. Video, music, games, Internet-these are the compelling drivers that will attract consumers into home networks.

It looks as if remote appliance control and other home automation capabilities will indeed come about, but as a side-effect of home media networking. The biggest question still to be answered is how. A clear-cut "enabling standard" has still not emerged.

There are industry heavyweights supporting various communication types. One of the biggest is global consumer electronics and appliances maker Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Samsung used the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to announce that it had joined the Implementers' Forum board of directors of the HomePlug(r) Powerline Alliance. The Alliance promotes worldwide acceptance of high-speed networking over power lines, with focus areas that include HomePlug 1.0 + AV in-home connectivity; HomePlug BPL to-the-home, Broadband-over-powerline applications; and HomePlug Home Automation command-and-control applications. Samsung's Digital Living Network demonstration at CES had the theme, "Just Plug Power & Enjoy Digital Living Network."

"Our belief is that CE and PC equipment will slowly create a mass market for home networking," King of Strategy Analytics tells APPLIANCE. By the time the mass market has been created, he adds, many of the current obstacles like a lack of standards will have disappeared. "Twenty-four percent of all CE equipment will be IP embedded by 2010," he says. "The position will be similar in the appliance market. Consumers will buy an IP-enabled appliance without ever needing to know that they have a home network. The installer should be able to integrate the appliance into the home network at installation, and be able to support it remotely using on-line diagnostics and repair."

There is much talk and activity about digital content, with new content-delivery partnerships springing up on what seems like a daily basis. As King points out, the TV may be the ultimate "10 foot" experience, but for many families it is the kitchen that is the hub of the home. It is there that the family meets and gathers.

"Why, then, cannot the Internet fridge with a LCD display be a major outlet for this plethora of digital content?" he asks. "Forget the fridge ordering eggs-think of it as the place where you can enjoy the latest music video download or some local video content via IPTV. Why will it not be the place where the family [members] leave their equivalent of today's IM (instant messaging)?"

Standards remain undefined. The dynamic nature of digital technology means that a proprietary system that is in place now could fade away in a few years. That would be a nightmare for the maker of white goods appliances, with a useful life that can be two or three times as long as many consumer electronics devices. The big risk, therefore, is in making the wrong choice and ending up with a significant investment in a dead-end technology.

It may be that to "wait-and-see" is the practical approach to the new market. On the other hand, interest is growing at the consumer level. Now may be the perfect time for proactive OEMs to differentiate their appliances with the addition of networking capabilities.

Supplier Solutions

You need to find a new way to join stubborn plastic parts. You need a way to redesign a subassembly to reduce component count and cost. You need a material that lets you engineer a complicated part with high-heat characteristics.
We have Solutions.

This issue marks the debut of Supplier Solutions, where APPLIANCE will present the latest innovations in a new, easy-reading format.

Check out Supplier Solutions: Plastic Materials and Equipment.

 

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