San Diego in May … life could be worse I guess. Connections 2000 proved to be a very worthwhile trip for me. I get the impression that the industry is beginning to gel and with the focus on broadband connections to our homes … the future of smart home technology is happening now. As usual, CABA and Parks Associates put on a terrific agenda with attendance doubling to 600 or so of the industy’s top experts (and a few press geeks like me).

Last year I attended Connections and came away with a bunch of questions … the main one being … “What the heck is a Residential Gateway and why will we all need one?”. Now … having been born and raised watching the Canadian Parliamentary system in action … I thought that we would be pondering that question for a few years or so 🙁 Wrong. One year later there are several companies including Cisco, 2Wire, CoActive and others that have produced and are marketing their gateways already. What a great industry to be a part of!

Lutron Electronics
Even more interesting is the fact that the focus has changed from “What can we do with new technology in the home and how can we sell it?” to “What new services can we deliver to homeowners and how will we deliver them”. Subtle change in wording … or new understanding of what consumers want to hear? My take is that those in the marketing departments have gotten the message that consumers don’t want to hear about technologies … it confuses and scares them. They just want cool stuff to buy and use.

So … how will this all come about. Enter your friendly neighborhood phone or cable company representative. The conversation may go something like this.

* Hello (sir/madam) … are you interested in accessing the internet at speeds 50 times faster than your current modem allows and have your connection available all the time … instantly?
* Yes … who wouldn’t.
* Do you have more than one computer?
* Yes … 2
* Would you like both of them to be able to access the internet via the same connection mentioned above.
* Sure I would.
* We can install a DSL/Cable modem and home gateway device that will allow that and also give you the options for future services such as movies on demand etc. Are you interested?
* Yes … how much?
* Installation (including the devices) will be $?? and the basic monthly fee will be $?? including the equipment rental. Our installation technician will show you how it all works.
* When can you have it done?
* How about next Wednesday at 3:00PM

Voila … we have ignition. It seems the only part of this equation that isn’t yet a reality is the last part. Service providers are not yet geared to deliver broadband services in a timely manner according to several presenters. I must admit it was a bit funny to hear the experts whine about having to use their dialup internet connections from home because it is a 6 week wait for DSL or Cable installation (especially in the San Francisco area it seems). Little old me in Sidney BC has had a cable modem for over a year now … and wouldn’t live without it … believe me. It’s time that the service providers get together with independent installers and move forward … quickly. Gary Shapiro of CEA made a great analogy using a Dr. Seuss classic. We need to get consumers to have a taste of those “Green Eggs and Ham” so they will discover how good they really are.

OK … now that the home has a gateway … here come the services. This is where it could get very interesting. Here are a few possibilities presented:

– Upgradeable appliances (ie add new washing cycles via software upgrades directly to the dishwasher)
– Appliance clocks that reset themselves daily from the interenet
– Adaptable interfaces (touchscreens) that change with new features (via software download)
– Video instruction clips (downloaded to the appliance)

Personal Genie
– Individualized interface learns your preferences over time.
– Online purchasing … searches and presents only what it thinks you would be interested in. ie … “I want a brown wallet” … Genie would search for the 5 best values that it thinks suit your preferences … you pick one … Genie orders it.
– Travel planning … same scenario … just tell it where you want to go and when. Be presented with a few options … Genie does the booking.

– Order a first run movie … select the time for showing … pay on your utility bill.
– Select and have your system record all the shows you like and watch them at your leisure. (Had a great presentation from TIVO … gotta have one of these … soon).

– Receive email or phone anywhere in the home at any time. Smart systems may even read the email and anticipate your plans. For example if you get an email about an upcoming birthday … the system would ask if you want to send flowers … just say yes and that’s done.

And on it goes. The main point I’m trying to make is that many presenters are looking beyond the technological breakthroughs, problems with standards etc. and have moved forward with plans for content. This will draw consumers across the market “Chasm” and into the mass market frenzy … which will make us all jump for joy and scramble for the new services. Let the techies get on with what they do in the back rooms … solve the problems that the sales department have created by overstating the features of the products and services 🙂

Be sure to have a look at the press announcements that came out of the conference. Technology is moving ahead on all fronts and although there are still conflicts with standards etc. most presenters indicated that their products are “Agnostic”. In other words they don’t care about standards and will adapt to whatever is required. It becomes clear that all forms of networking media will play a roll … powerline, phoneline, wireless, twisted pair … whatever. Some are better than others for certain tasks and the home will probably contain devices that use them all.

One point I would like to make that I think will become more important to marketers as time goes on. Many of the Gateways have built in FireWalls. This feature should not be overlooked … it is mandatory that consumers be made aware that this new device in their home is actually protecting them from unwanted cyber snooping. I for one was shocked to see that with my always on … super slick cable modem connection I was also vulnerable to anyone in the world wishing to probe my computer. This can be a very positive sales pitch for the Residential Gateway.

By the way … a few presenters indicated a need to give these technologies a new name. Home Networking just sounds too scary to the average consumer. I have a suggestion … and I’m stickin to it … how about “HomeToys”?