It’s a body sensor that gauges your mood and sends a signal to an interactive program guide, which recommends appropriate shows you might like to see while you’re in that frame of mind.
It’s a smartphone app that, through your home-gateway device, tells your smart thermostat to cool down the house because you’re coming home earlier than scheduled.
It’s the nanny-cam that lets you keep track of your kids’ timely return from school.
It’s a FitBit that tracks your exercise and body metrics.
And it may yet be the long-promised refrigerator that generates a shopping list by recognizing that you’re running short of milk and/or beer.
Collectively, it’s the Internet of Things (IoT) that builds on today’s home-automation and monitoring systems, using next-generation Internet connectivity to create an expanded roster of advanced services. The past year has seen more progress toward this interconnected Nirvana than the false starts and stumbles toward integration of the past two decades. Much of the momentum comes from the emergence of low-cost sensors and wireless capability.
TV service providers are in a great position to integrate these IoT options into one all-encompassing service for viewing customers, despite hurdles of privacy and operating standards, analysts said. Cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable, for example, offer several home-security and automation services to customers, including the ability to turn the oven on or the lights off from miles away.
In addition to buying Nest, the smart thermostat maker, Google recently acquired DeepMind, an artificial- intelligence software firm, and at least a half-dozen robotics companies. All together, these components can be assembled into some kind of “real- life Internet,” a collection of “things” that could rely upon or compete with cable’s IoT agenda.
“These are the days that many of us tried to envision 10 or 15 years ago,” John Jason Brzozowski, fellow and chief IPv6 architect at Comcast Cable, said. “Now we’ve got experience,” he added, citing the avalanche of smart devices, as well as consumer awareness and appreciation of interconnectivity.
The biggest change in the past few years is that “more devices are coming online, especially wearables,” JT Taylor, director of product marketing in Cisco’s Service Provider Video Technology Group, said. He cited Cisco’s “Connected Life” motto, which is also expressed in the tech giant’s preference for the term “Internet of Everything.”
“Mobility plays a huge role,” Taylor said.
Cable executives and vendors agreed that the expansive IoT showcases at January’s International CES in Las Vegas drove home — literally — the accelerating prospect for new business. Their expectations have been bolstered by a wave of research reports auguring immense IoT adoption.
Juniper Research has predicted a $71 billion “smar t-home” market by 2018 (up from $33 billion last year), with entertainment-related services representing 80% of that revenue. And Cisco chairman John Chambers has repeatedly enunciated a $19 tr illion global “cost benefit” from IoT adoption.
ABI Research forecasts that 30 billion devices will be connected wirelessly to the Internet of Things by 2020. And research firm Gartner predicts that the IoT will add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020 by providing “more functionality and interactions across various brands and sectors, such as the connected home, healthcare, education, automotive and enterprise.”
MEET THE ‘JETSONS’ AGE
One thing lacking in the enthusiastic race to deliver IoT is a precise definition of what it includes. The opportunities are virtually endless.
As the CES IoT showcase demonstrated, a vast interconnected array of sensors, smart devices and “big data” enable Jetsons-style applications to be implemented. It’s essentially putting inexpensive Internet-protocol addresses into electronic devices and appliances, from video receivers and communications handsets to light bulbs to automobiles and beyond. The digital identifiers use the evolving IP version 6 (IPv6) technology, developed by the global Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
The new protocol can handle more than 350 trillion-quadrillion-quintillion addresses (think of it as 38 zeros), magnitudes more than the current IPv4 protocol.
More significantly, the CES exhibits showed that product makers from different sectors intend for their wares to be connected.
The profusion of mobile apps and interactive projects is already making consumers comfortable with systems that, for example, enable their smartphones to unlock house doors, monitor multiple security cameras in various places around the house on a smartphone (Comcast can demonstrate that capability now) or keep track of their FitBit or other health-tracking wearable.
Along with this profusion of products, though, comes the question of interoperability. In theory, IPv6 brings technical uniformity across industries. But in the interim, profitable operations slow down IPv6. This month, the percentage of users reaching Google services via IPv6 surpassed 3% for the first time.
Comcast, the biggest supplier of IPv6 services, has said that 30% of its customers are equipped to handle the new protocol. To Comcast’s Brzozowski, the next challenge is “to push consumer-electronics companies to deploy real IPv6 applications.”
Everyone agrees that customers will need assurances that an ’Net-connected device will work on whatever system — be it Verizon Communications’s FiOS, AT&T’s U-verse, Comcast, Cablevision Systems or any other service provider.
Brzozowski pointed to IPv6 as a global standard that assures such consistency.
“We do have standards,” he said. “The big challenge has been making sure that all parties in the ecosystem are up with it.”
Kristine Faulkner, general manager and vice president of Cox Home Security and Smart Home, agreed that “there’s a lot to do.”
It is “imperative that we align ... and start from a common foundation,” she said. “This is a logical extension of our relationship with our customers.”
Like other MSO executives who attended CES, she checked off a handful of lessons she gleaned that will guide her plans. She cited the “explosion of devices” and the “plethora of enablement,” the importance of platform and the prospect for using behavioral data.
“We can turn that into value and monetize that data,” she said.
Cable operators’ aggressive moves into home security and energy control are paving the way for the Internet of Things while also establishing a successful business based on predecessor technologies.
Comcast is continuing to expand its current “Xfinity Home” broadband and cloud-based platform that offers security, energy management and home control services on its X1 platform. Future additions are expected to include in-wall lighting, smart thermostat controls, water sensors, multiple indoor/outdoor wireless cameras and remote video-monitoring capabilities — a prelude to Comcast’s implementation of the Internet of Things.
Many large cable operators are using the iControl Networks software platform and Zigbee wireless-transmission technology, which have sufficient signal strength to reach throughout a home plus long battery life and security.
These services present technologies at different stages and standards as an example of ways in which vendors are covering their bets. Last week, iControl, AT&T Digital Life and eight other companies joined the AllSeen Alliance, which calls itself a “cross-industry effort to accelerate Internet of Everything.”
More than two-dozen firms (led by Qualcomm and including Cisco, Technicolor, LG and Panasonic) are already in that consortium.
Time Warner Cable is focused on building a “f lexible platform” that integrates sensors for lights, appliance models and security and can be controlled from an Android-based touch screen, Adam Mayer, vice president of Intelligent Home, said.
He said he believes that the lessons learned during this phase (which uses Zigbee and iControl technologies) will be valuable in future IoT projects.
It’s “absolutely critical” to “bring in lots of partners” and make sure that devices work with each other, Mayer said. “Cable has a huge right to win in this space. We’re getting customers who are buying and excited by the smart home.”
Charles Cheevers, the Arris chief technology officer who oversees customer premises equipment, said the “home gateway is the real start of this process.”
At CableLabs, IoT falls under the “Smart Space” research theme, based on the premise that “there will be more sensors in the world, getting cheaper and more powerful,” Donald Dulchinos, senior vice president of advertising and interactive services at the cable technology consortium, said.
“That aligns with where cable companies are now working with smart homes,” he added.
As with many previous promises, the IoT path is strewn with barriers. Aside from standards and interoperability, security and privacy could slow down the effort.
Many consumers will inevitably be creeped out by a TV program guide that gauges your mood to recommend shows. Others will stay away from biometric sensors that pump their vital life signs into the cloud.
Already, Federal Trade Commission member Maureen Ohlhausen and other Washington officials have cautioned that the far-reaching tentacles of automated Internet services require protective vigilance.
“We think that it’s very important to get scale without sacrificing security and privacy,” Qualcomm’s Chandhok said.
Operators and vendors expect their current home networking services to migrate into expansive, interconnected ‘Net-centric revenue opportunities, including energy management, health, fitness, automotive and other nontraditional services. Two big challenges: tech standards and privacy concerns.
Many of today’s Internet of Things implementations involve “glass slabs,” as Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab scientist David Rose characterizes the screen-based connectivity with flat-panel TV sets, tablets and smartphones.
In his forthcoming book Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things, Rose focuses on the “transformative development” in which cars, wallets, watches, umbrellas and “even our trash cans” will respond to our needs and learn to think ahead on our behalf.
His tech-sociology tome expands beyond the IoT products that are coming to market this year. Hot current products such as the Nest thermostat (made by a young company that Google acquired for $3.2 billion) and Samsung’s $400 multi-room audio speakers are relatively low-hanging fruit. Here are some other early contenders in the “enchanted objects” inventory.
• A tennis racket that records strokes and feeds into tutorial software.
• A toothbrush that records brushing activity and advises which teeth need more cleansing.
• A parking-meter sensor that transmits it is “available,” sending a signal to nearby cars that might otherwise keep circling the block looking for an open space.
• Windshield wipers that turn themselves on when they sense rain.
• Basketballs that, when bounced, remind your TV-management software to record any basketballrelated shows.
• Implanted chips that track down lost pets.
• Containers of food with say, peanuts, can alert you (or a kid’s parents) that you (or your kid) is about to eat something that isn’t good for your health.
— Gary Arlen
Look Ahead: NCTA Show’s IoT Showcase
The Internet of Things will take the stage — make that several stages — at the Cable Show in Los Angeles, set for April 29 to May 1.
The Spring Technical Forum will include several sessions dealing with sensors, home networking and other factors in the IoT expansion. National Cable & Telecommunications Association vice president of industry affairs Mark Bell said there will be “educational and interactive” events to showcase “the art of the possible in the connected life” and its impact on network infrastructure.
The CableNet pavilion and the “Imagine Park” presentation stage are also expected to feature many IoT demonstrations.
The NCTA doesn’t plan to build an interactive connected house on the exhibit floor — as it did at the 2004 Cable Show in New Orleans, when the technology was far less advanced — but the Los Angeles program will beam out the message of cable’s role in the IoT.
“It’s important to send a signal to members” about the importance and opportunities in IoT, Bell said.
— Gary Arlen