When we think of the new, networked home, most of us are thinking about services that fall into one of three key areas: data, control, and entertainment.

* Data networking refers to capabilities such as networking together the different PCs in your home, connecting them with a printer, or allowing them to link to other data or output devices.
* Control includes the kind of telemetry e-services that extend your ability to get things done efficiently, often saving you time and money, such as when you can monitor and control appliances and household functions remotely.
* Entertainment, for many of us holds the most exciting prospects. This is about being able to access audio and video from the Internet and stream it around your home to your various TV, stereo and other entertainment equipment. It’s about being able to capture this entertainment ( programs, movies, music) control it from a single personal interface, and make it available where and when you want to enjoy it.

With all the talk about gateways, which one is going to provide entertainment?

The technologies and products exist to deliver a full range of entertainment capabilities. And likely you’ve been hearing about them for many months.

The issues now are cost and accessibility. This is where the residential gateway comes in.

The gateway from Coactive Networks delivers the data, the control, and many entertainment capabilities as well. Other gateways deliver other pieces of the larger entertainment picture. Even without a gateway, if you are lucky enough have broadband service, you can download MP3 files from the Internet and use HomePNA to move them onto your computer or even directly onto one of the new pieces of audio equipment that accept these files from the Internet.

But back to cost and accessibility. The answer is for multiple function residential gateways to be deployed by service providers on a mass market basis (as is happening now in Europe). That means when they do come to your neighborhood, entertainment services will be offered at costs comparable to what your local telephone company charges for call waiting instead of those comparable to your monthly mortgage payment.

What are we waiting for?

Yet despite all that it does offer, the affordable residential gateway does not yet make possible the streaming audio-video capabilities that entertainment buffs so anxiously await. Why not?

There are two main reasons for the delay.

1. First there’s the physical infrastructure. Before you can make such services inexpensive – that is, viable for a mass market approach – you need the broadband connections. Right now only a small minority of homes has some kind of broadband – either cable, DSL or wireless.
2. Second, there’s a protocol infrastructure. In order for all of us to personally access audio and video, the audio and video producers need to agree on a set of standards for industry cooperation.

Once those standards are in place, it will be no time at all before you’re able to remotely control programming choices, set up a movie for the evening’s viewing, and put your favorite sounds around you.

Ultimate convergence – entertaining the future

Over the next five years, get ready to see a proliferation of even more proprietary systems and gateways as additional technology companies compete for your entertainment dollar.

Ultimately, the consumer will win. The various technologies and functionalities will converge. Within the next two to five years, you’ll see large deployments of residential gateways that will consolidate functions and deliver valuable services that are simple and affordable. You’ll find you can be entertained, keep an eye on the kids’ TV viewing habits from the office, control the pool temperature, and preheat the oven for dinner as you commute home – all with a single, easy-to-use gateway device.