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Connected Homes February 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Kyle M. Whitman

Smart TVs as Home-Network Hubs

By Michael Gold
Gold is a senior research engineer specializing in innovations in digital technologies and their impacts on businesses, governments, and individuals.

Why is this topic significant?

Smart TVs may soon control, monitor, and serve as user interfaces for diverse networked appliances and accessories.

Description

Samsung recently announced that 2016 models of its ultra-high-definition smart TV sets (not yet available as of February) will include the features and functions of the electronics giant's SmartThings home-networking platform, which currently takes the form of a router-like device and associated software for PCs, smartphones, and tablets. This means the new TVs will be compatible with hundreds of commercially available models of Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Wi-Fi embedded devices, which include diverse styles of light switches, security sensors, handheld remote controls, energy monitors, and other connected products that dozens of manufacturers supply and support. Big-screen apps running on the Samsung sets will help people monitor baby cameras and security cameras, dim lights, and control indoor climate; but broadband-mesh gateways such as SmartThings also help users interact with home networks using handheld devices and PCs.

TV-connected solutions that integrate a broadband-mesh gateway include set-top boxes from leading US cable-TV service Comcast. Compatibility of these boxes with third-party connected devices is somewhat limited.

Implications

Given the strategic landscape of a home's interior, a smart TV might be a good location to host a gateway that fluently translates among Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and ZigBee protocols. Even while the TV is nominally powered down, it can route alerts from security sensors to users, who may be local or distant and cloud-connected; and it can route control messages from users to devices such as lights, irrigation controllers, and door locks. High- and ultra-high-definition displays might also play important roles in home-networking user experiences, for example displaying an energy-use dashboard, helping users set up and configure new connected things, and performing any home-network duties that confer benefits when multiple users watch together.

Impacts/Disruptions

In some scenarios, SmartThings bundled with a TV could be a Trojan horse that drives adoption of Samsung-branded appliances, such as a clothes dryer that sends a notification to the TV when a cycle is complete. But multivendor compatibility is key to the appeal of broadband mesh gateways, in particular, existing router-like products from D-Link, Insteon, Lowe's, Mi Casa Verde, Samsung, Securifi, and Quirky. For some of these platforms, especially SmartThings, expert users are important for contributing crowdsourced software that establishes connectivity with new models of networked gadgets, as they become available.

Probably, most people today would not deliberately buy a dedicated gateway for connectivity to battery-operated, mesh-connected devices such as smoke alarms or wireless doorbells. But if a gateway is simply part of a new TV, a household could discover uses for it. For example, broadband-mesh gateways make it possible (with significant installation effort) to have free choice to control new LED lights from a wall switch, a handheld remote control, a smartphone, or a key fob switch, depending only on which control surface is most convenient for the user at the moment. Multivendor compatibility also means availability of competing lighting and control solutions. The competition seems to have led to innovations and improvements in networked sensors, controllers, and illumination power supplies, though further improvements remain imperative.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Home automation, home networking, broadband connectivity, mobile integration, Internet-of-Things, mesh networking, wireless connectivity, embedded devices

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Global Netflix

Why is this topic significant?

United States–based streaming-video service Netflix now offers a truly global reach, with service in 190 countries (up from 60 countries as of the end of 2015).

Description

On January 6, 2016, Netflix announced that it was expanding the reach of its broadband video-streaming service from 60 countries to 190. With the exception of China, which currently remains off-limits to the service, Netflix is now available in every major media market in the world. By some measures the service may now be the largest video distribution network in history. Many other networks have far more viewers than Netflix does; for example, the BBC has about twice as many weekly viewers worldwide as Netflix has subscribers (149 million versus 74 million). And many televised events have drawn a truly global audience of viewers; the 2012 Olympic Games, for example, was reportedly available to some 4.8 billion "potential viewers." But like other events with worldwide reach, the Olympic Games broadcasts are spread across many different television networks and streaming services, which rebroadcast content under license from original rights holders. Netflix, by contrast, sells its service directly to customers in every market where it is now available.

Implications

Like many video-streaming services with international reach, Netflix determines the geographic location of a viewer by means of the IP address in use to access the service, and it uses that information to ensure that the service's catalog displays only content that is licensed for viewing in that location (or to return an error message if the location is unsupported). But before Netflix became available worldwide, a niche of Netflix users had long employed various means of viewing Netflix content in countries where the service was not officially available, or to view content that was not licensed for playback in their country.

Following the announcement of its worldwide expansion, Netflix announced that it would use various technical means to prevent users from employing some common methods to bypass regional viewing restrictions. Thus far, Netflix has apparently been blacklisting the IP addresses of many popular VPN and proxy services that people could use to evade regional restrictions. This act has ignited something of an arms race: Certain services have engaged in countermeasures to thwart such bans, and Netflix has responded by adopting additional technical measures to prevent evasion, reportedly with limited success. In the meantime, Netflix claims that it is continuing to pursue the goal of "offering all [of its] content everywhere," a vision that is ambitious to say the least. Content producers have long embraced regional distribution for many reasons, and Netflix is unlikely to be able to change this practice unless its membership grows to several times its current size.

Impacts/Disruptions

Unlike with conventional television networks, the only way to receive Netflix service is over a broadband data connection. For most current Netflix members, that connection is evidently their home's fixed-line broadband connection. In the United States, Netflix's first and still largest market, some 70% of all peak downstream fixed-line network traffic during 2015 consisted of Netflix video, according to broadband research firm Sandvine. Whether equivalent trends will obtain in Netflix's new markets is unclear, but it is certainly possible that broader availability of Netflix will stimulate greater demand for home broadband networks, which can offer the best viewing experience for Netflix content. Thus, as Netflix expands its reach, home networks might well expand theirs. Alternatively, people in new markets might prefer to view Netflix on mobile devices, over cellular broadband connections. Currently, the service is much less popular on mobile, relative to services such as YouTube that have strong focus on short-form content.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Streaming media, home networks, home entertainment, broadband connectivity

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: