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Connected Homes October 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Good Broadband Service without Fiber

Why is this topic significant?

Telephone and cable-TV industries are working to achieve faster uploading and downloading without taking on the large expense of deploying fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-curb infrastructure.

Description

Suppliers and researchers have recently demonstrated systems that deliver data rates multiple times higher than those of existing cable-TV (CATV) and DSL lines. The improved data rates can be more than twice those that are possible with the technologies that are now commercially available.

Committees are working to update DSL standards called G.fast. Initial deployments of the technology improved data rates, but in many cases the improved data rates remained well under 100 Mbit/s. During 2015, start-up Sckipio claimed to have transmitted data at rates of some 500 Mbit/s over 200 m lengths of twisted-pair copper (the dominant type of cable that landline phone companies worldwide use for all connected-home services including broadband access).

CATV-industry research leader CableLabs is working on a standard (DOCSIS 3.1) that promises to support symmetrical service that delivers 10 Gbit/s downloads and concurrent 10 Gbit/s uploads. Nokia has demonstrated a similar technology. The CableLabs and Nokia technologies rely on advanced signal-processing methods for canceling self-interference, a phenomenon that can otherwise cause a modem's sender to interfere with its own receiver.

Implications

Deployment schedules for the new technologies are highly uncertain, in part because the schedules for standardization are measured in years, not months. Even so, some services are likely to deploy limited amounts of improved (though prestandard) technologies in regions where cable-versus-telco competition is fierce; in regions where a service faces a competitor that has already deployed much fiber to homes and/or curbs; and in networks of limited size where industries and governments choose to showcase new technologies.

Broadband service providers now have a technology road map to improve data rates without bringing fiber directly to customer premises. The business road map is less clear. In nations where CATV and DSL compete with one another—notably in China, Germany, South Korea, and the United States—service providers might engage in an escalating competitive struggle, with improved CATV and DSL technologies vying for the favor of hundreds of millions of household decision makers. Generally, services face a challenge to engineer and deploy networks that can deliver satisfying data rates—not the fastest possible data rates—at competitive prices whether the cable that reaches the outer walls of a home is made of glass or metal.

Impacts/Disruptions

Some stakeholders may wonder why services do not simply deploy more fiber-to-the-home. But fiber deployments are labor intensive, and labor is costly. Associated capital expenditures can exceed $1,000 per household, thousands or millions of households at a time. Therefore, new CATV and DSL technologies ensure that the metal, not glass, will continue to dominate on-premises service-entry points in the near to medium term.

That said, competition could drive incumbent services to deploy fiber-connected distribution points closer to homes than at present—in ideal cases, to within 200 m or less. Major service improvements can be accomplished by hanging fiber on utility poles and deploying a distribution point in each neighborhood, postponing expected fiber overhauls of hundreds of millions of homes, their service entrances, and the drop cables that connect them to telecommunications grids.

Scale of Impact

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

Time of Impact

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Network-equipment manufacturing, broadband-access services, streaming services, telecommuting, home security, Internet of Things

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Midgeneration Overhaul for Gaming Consoles

By David Strachan-Olson
Strachan-Olson is a research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Microsoft and Sony are releasing enhanced versions of their current-generation consoles within the next year. These new consoles will bring many new features to households but signify a departure from the traditional gaming console cycle.

Description

In November 2016, Sony will release the PlayStation 4 (PS4) Pro with increased graphical performance to support 4K resolution and the HDR (high-dynamic-range) format HDR10. The device will also support 4K and HDR video content through streaming services but will not incorporate a UHD (ultra-high-definition) Blu-ray drive, which means that the new console will not be capable of playing back 4K video content from Blu-ray discs. Sony is also launching the PlayStation VR in October 2016, which will bring VR (virtual reality) experiences to households without high-performance computers. The VR system will work with both the PS4 and PS4 Pro, but some industry critics speculate that the original PS4 does not have the processing power to provide a quality VR experience.

Microsoft will wait until late 2017 to release the enhanced Xbox One currently designated as Project Scorpio. Based on Microsoft's specifications, Project Scorpio will support native 4K gaming and HDR10, as well as 4K and HDR10 video playback through streaming services and a UHD Blu-ray drive. Project Scorpio will also support specific third-party VR headsets (potentially including the Oculus Rift).

Additionally, Sony and Microsoft have released redesigned versions of their base consoles, called the PS4 Slim and Xbox One S respectively. As has been the case in previous console generations, these redesigned consoles have minor improvements and a lower price; Microsoft has also incorporated support for 4K video output from streaming services and a UHD Blu-ray drive in the Xbox One S.

Implications

Both Microsoft and Sony have made it clear that the next major feature in console gaming is 4K with HDR support, as well as VR. The July 2016 Viewpoints mentioned the limited selection of UHD content, with distribution primarily through video-streaming services. Game consoles provide additional sources of UHD content in the form of video games and, in Microsoft's case, through UHD Blu-ray discs.

Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets have been available in the United States for almost six months, and although reception in the gaming community has been good, the headsets' high price and significant computer requirements have limited their widespread commercial appeal. The availability of game consoles capable of supporting advanced VR devices and content could help advance the acceptance and adoption of VR technology.

Impacts/Disruptions

Sony and Microsoft are altering the traditional pattern of console generations and release cycles by offering enhanced versions of the current generation of consoles to take advantage of interest in 4K resolution, HDR, and VR. This change might signal a shift toward a release model similar to those of smartphones and PCs, with more frequent device releases utilizing a common operating system, allowing game developers to create a single game that varies graphical performance based on the device in use. This change could permit companies to create a family of systems that range from inexpensive options targeted as all-in-one entertainment solutions that combine basic gaming functionality with a Blu-ray player and streaming box, to pricier options for gamers who demand high-performance consoles.

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: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Video games, electronics manufacturing, virtual reality, streaming services, film and TV production

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: