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Connected Homes April 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Whole-House Wi-Fi

By Sean R. Barulich
Barulich is a research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Mesh Wi-Fi networks improve upon conventional wireless networks by expanding coverage and optimizing traffic. With growth in the number of connected devices scattered throughout homes, mesh networking can help address gaps in connectivity.

Description

Many companies, including Google, Eero, Luma, Linksys, and Ubiquiti Networks, are selling consumer-grade equipment for mesh networking to improve coverage in homes and are using network analytics to optimize home network performance. True mesh networks can be self-healing; they make it possible to have more than one route to transfer data, and can sustain connections even if one route is blocked (say, if a device fails or becomes congested with another household member's data traffic). Some mesh systems also use multiple Wi-Fi channels, freeing up usable bandwidth by assigning one of the channels to perform backhaul.

Google Wifi's mesh kit uses the company's Network Assist software to scan networks for data to create predictive models for finding the clearest channels for the home network and the devices on it. Network Assist also directs devices to the optimal access points on the network based on device type and location. Google Wifi lacks advanced configuration; in contrast, Eero and Luma provide more flexibility for power users. Luma in particular incorporates dedicated network security features including real-time malware scanning and blocking.

Older products such as Apple's AirPort and newer options such as Netgear's Orbi are not "true mesh" products in that these systems follow star topology; their satellite access points can only communicate with a base station and do not interact with one another as they do in Google Wifi and Linksys Velop, for example.

Implications

Network coverage is not solely an issue for rich people with big houses. Users in heavily walled or split-level homes can have problems with whole-house connectivity that extenders and repeaters cannot always solve. Although consumer mesh networking products may provide better reliability for devices in the homes of some users by optimizing in real time, there are some downsides to mesh networks. As with some other coverage-improvement solutions such as repeaters and extenders, mesh routers and satellite kits improve coverage and general quality of service (QoS) at the expense of impaired throughput and latency. In cases where product reviewers benchmarked systems, some traditional router and modem sets outperformed new mesh systems despite coverage benefits. Almost all mesh systems performed best when using wired connections for backhaul, though none seem to assure flawless, continuous connectivity when users roam around their houses with their devices—for example, while videoconferencing or enjoying a streaming video.

Impacts/Disruptions

As more IoT devices and applications demand more data, consumer interest in mesh networks may grow because improved coverage may be worth some performance loss or higher cost to users. If mesh systems cannot solve coverage issues for consumers, then they may continue to remain more useful for enterprises and institutions.

Consumer Wi-Fi can generally be improved by using the latest-and-greatest cable or DSL modems and unobstructed mid-priced routers. In addition, the IEEE 802.11r-2008 "fast roaming" standard—although still awaiting practical implementation—has the potential to support the near-seamless connectivity users want while they roam between home access points. Finally, suppliers might see advantages in integrating true-mesh technology into virtual-assistant devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home; some users already enjoy the convenience of having more than one such gadget, for example, to support multiroom audio streaming.

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

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

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Connected Gadgets for Dogs and Cats

Why is this topic significant?

"Pet-tronics" entrepreneurs are tempting people with high-tech offerings for finding, monitoring, training, entertaining, and remotely communicating with their four-legged family members.

Description

Dozens of companies are supplying an abundance of wireless-network–connected collars, feeders, toys, and security doors for furry household members. Several webcams incorporate cat- and dog-friendly features. Connected cameras from Furbo and Petzi can launch treats into the air for a dog to catch. A human user can also dispense treats from videoconferencing gadgets from PetChatz, which incorporate a camera and a display. PetChatz also sells an optional illuminated module that rests on the floor and allows a dog to call a human. Cat2See supplies a webcam and an accessory device that dangles a cat toy at the end of a smartphone-controllable rod. Petcube, which is also mainly for cats, includes a laser pointer that a human user can aim via a smartphone app. Kittyo's webcam includes both a laser pointer and a snack dispenser.

Even without a one-way or two-way video connection, distant smartphones can monitor and control various dedicated game hardware that dispenses dog food. CleverPet's unit dispenses food when a dog presses the unit's illuminated touchpads in a certain sequence. PupPod includes a wireless toy that a dog plays with to activate a separate food dispenser. Apparently, there are no game gadgets that dispense food rewards for cats, but several tablet games for cats are available.

Many connected collars and collar tags help find animals. Most cellular-connected finders impose recurring subscription charges to show an animal's location on a map within a smartphone app. Vendors include Dog Tracker Nano, Gibi, Kyon Tracker, Pawtrack, Petrek, Pod, Retrieva, Tractive, Whistle, and Wüf. Nuzzle is an exception—it includes service in the price of its GPS collar. Other wearables for animals that do not require subscriptions include collars with matching handheld devices from Eureka Technology Partners, Garmin, and Loc8tor.

Also, during 2015, cat-food brand Whiskas distributed a limited number of camera-equipped cat collars to Australian celebrities. When cats wearing the Catstacam collars were active, they automatically uploaded six images per minute to Instagram.

Implications

Animal companions often don't get the care and attention they need, partly because commuting and extended work hours occupy much of their owners' time. Now, technology innovators are enabling four-legged household members to enjoy connected lifestyles. Online videos show that many pets appreciate electronic interactions with people. Although some connected tags and feeders may be solutions in search of a problem, many other available products mix both practical and endearingly frivolous features that tickle humans' fancy while keeping cats and dogs active and stimulated.

Impacts/Disruptions

About half the households in the United States have at least one cat or dog, and many have more than one of each. A recent industry-sponsored survey indicated that people who own dogs spend about $200 annually on toys, treats, and grooming. Considering that some people spend considerably more than that amount, millions of households can likely afford expenses for connected pet gadgets. Also considering that people's preoccupations with cats and dogs sometimes manifest in the form of luxury grooming, travel services, and other instances of "petsumerism," markets seem likely to continue generating new ways to improve human-animal relations and to reduce the effective distance between mobile people and their homebound pets.

Scale of Impact

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

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:

Electronics manufacturing, software development, cloud services, electromechanical systems

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: