Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Connected Homes July 2018 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Managed Wi-Fi

Why is this topic significant?

An emerging category of connected-home services might yield substantial revenues for telecommunications carriers and their suppliers. At least one start-up will also sell its own subscription-based service directly to households.

Description

Recent announcements reveal service introductions, trials, and proposals to supply managed Wi-Fi services for homes. In some sense, cable and telephone companies already deliver managed Wi-Fi services, but the companies' responsibilities typically do not extend to providing whole-house coverage, updating router configurations to account for changing use patterns, and implementing best practices in cybersecurity for home networks. Separately, Bell Canada and Comcast have introduced whole-house Wi-Fi options during 2018, with help from start-up Plume, which received $37 million in investments from Comcast in 2017.

Additional service providers—Hong Kong Telecom, Liberty Global, Orange, Swisscom, and Telenor—are testing or trialing various premium Wi-Fi offerings, according to a March 2018 report by Rethink Research. Technology vendors are angling to partner with these and other service providers to enable managed Wi-Fi services in the home. Some representative suppliers in this market include AirTies, Eye Networks, SoftAtHome, Spot On Networks, and Zyxel. Another such vendor, XCellAir, was acquired by home-hot-spot specialist Fon in April 2018. Also, during June 2018, Plume started selling managed Wi-Fi services directly to households, regardless of a household's broadband-service provider. Current offers include a bundle of three routers for $199 plus a service fee that can be $60 per year or a lifetime subscription for $200.

In late 2016, XCellAir conducted a survey of US and UK residents' satisfaction with Wi-Fi and their willingness to pay for premium service. After extrapolating the survey results, the company claimed that managed Wi-Fi services worldwide have the potential to yield $3.3 billion per year in revenue.

Implications

Not everyone needs multiple routers in the home or has problems with Wi-Fi, so the motivation to pay extra for managed Wi-Fi services may seem mysterious. But consider that many businesses rely on managed services to configure and maintain routers. Why would people living in normal-size apartments and other houses do likewise and pay someone to manage their Wi-Fi network? Radio fog can change as tenants and tract-home neighbors move and acquire new equipment and apps. New residences with concrete walls can have good sound-insulation and structural properties at the cost of poor radio-signal propagation. Many old structures have plaster with extensive metal-mesh reinforcement that impedes wireless signals. Routers might be able to transmit through two walls to a handheld device; but that device, with its batteries and power limitations, might not be able to reciprocate. Typical users seem unlikely to learn the fine points of Wi-Fi channel selection, signal-strength settings, security-related settings, prioritization rules, and other router-configuration options. Although outcomes are uncertain, managed Wi-Fi might solve many of these problems.

Impacts/Disruptions

Increased use of handheld devices for online video, games, and other high-bandwidth applications is leading to increased expectations of performance. To adapt to dynamic and changing needs, vendors and researchers are developing advanced analytics and machine-learning software that helps optimize router configurations and cybersecurity settings. SoftAtHome says it can provide "instant steering," connecting a device to the nearest access point as a user roams from room to room. Service providers may be able to use cloud smarts to promise such timely handovers, possibly including seamless handovers to and from cellular networks.

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:

Broadband-service providers, software developers, cloud services, customer-premises equipment manufacturers, semiconductor manufacturers, field-technician and field-engineering services

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Ambient Informational Displays

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

Why is this topic significant?

Companies are developing ambient displays that inform and entertain home users. Future ambient-display systems may populate home interiors as always-on smart-home hubs that provide virtual assistance, present device notifications and news, and run various applications.

Description

Originally, ambient information systems were niche devices that relayed limited information to support user's general awareness while fitting into a home's decor. For example, Ambient Devices' Orb, a frosted glass ball, displayed information about stock prices and electricity rates by means of changing colors. Ambient information systems have since evolved into features in various consumer electronics and software. In particular, smartphones with always-on displays are a popular example of devices with ambient-display features. For example, Android-based smartphones such as LG's V35 ThinQ, Google's Pixel 2, and Samsung's Galaxy S9 provide information-at-a-glance features and can display the time and various application notifications through the phone's always-on organic-light-emitting-diode (OLED) screen. Smart-home devices have also acquired ambient-display features. For example, smart speakers equipped with displays—such as Google's Smart Displays, manufactured by Lenovo, LG, and JBL—provide customizable always-on screens, virtual assistance, and access to various applications.

Ambient informational technology is now emerging as a feature in large-format displays for the home. In 2017, Samsung introduced The Frame, which functions as a conventional smart TV but can also display various art—through its Art Mode feature—when users are not watching television. More recently, Samsung introduced Ambient Mode for its 2018 quantum-dot-light-emitting-diode (QLED) smart TVs: an always-on, customizable home screen that can display the news, weather, and personal photos, and play users' music. Other TV manufacturers—including LG, Panasonic, and Sharp—have also promoted use of their products to display art. Some devices can enable ambient-display features on smart TVs that lack the capabilities. For example, Google's Chromecast can display time, news, and weather information on a customizable home screen. In addition, users can display personal photos, various art, and other content on the home screen's backdrop. Roku's Streaming Stick has similar functionality and can display art through apps such as Artcast or Artkick or various content through downloadable screensavers.

Implications

Ambient informational displays can provide users with tools for obtaining noncritical information, controlling connected devices, and adjusting decor and lighting in the home. Virtual-assistant technologies will be important for improving the convenience and usefulness of ambient informational displays. Although ambient informational displays may help users feel informed, not all ambient information systems may be useful, and they may ultimately provide more distractions in users' homes. Companies producing ambient-display technology will need to balance functionality, streamlined interfaces, and aesthetics to satisfy consumers.

Impacts/Disruptions

In the future, ambient informational displays may extend throughout users' homes and provide multifunctional interfaces for obtaining information, streaming media, customizing the home interior, and controlling Internet of Things devices. Manufacturers of smart speakers and smart TVs appear most prepared to combine various technologies such as artificial intelligence, high-resolution displays, and software for advanced ambient systems. Companies developing ambient displays may rely on technologies such as micro-light-emitting-diode displays, presence-detecting sensors, and multifunctional interfaces to improve the appearance and functionality of their products. However, companies developing ambient systems with always-on displays need to be aware of display burn-in and energy use.

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:

Display manufacturing, artificial intelligence, software services, sensors

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: