Thursday, June 01, 2000

Connections Opens Gateway To Home Networking

The gateway to the future home was a topic on quite a few agendas at CONNECTIONS™ 2000:   Advancing the Networked Home, held May 3-5 in San Diego, CA.  This year, with major technology players responding to the home-networking buzz by filling a newly enlarged show floor, the conference was both a forum for the technological discussion and a showcase for prospective product offerings.

More than 600 delegates were present for panels assembled with representatives from Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Lucent, Motorola, AT&T, and Texas Instruments, among many others.  To complement the presentations with time equally well-spent learning about product offerings, Dallas-based market research firm Parks Associates, which co-hosted the conference with CABA, nearly sold out 15,000 square feet of Connections Showcase space to 46 exhibitors.

"Parks Associates and CABA have recognized this market for four years, and now all the key players have finally come forward, and we can see that by the doubling of exhibitors at this years' event, as well as doubling the number of attendees that came to CONNECTIONS 2000," said Steve Harvey, Parks Associates director of business development.  The firm is projecting that it will sell out an expanded space and draw 1,000 attendees next year at CONNECTIONS™ 2001 in Seattle.

Parks Associates and CABA seem justified in their belief that the home networking market will continue to grow.  "At this rate, there are so many people getting on board with the idea of home networks--and now there's really a tie between the home networks and the residential gateway --all those things will lead to more companies jumping on this opportunity and you'll actually start seeing more deployments in the next year," Harvey said.  Next year, as broadband gains ground in the residential market, Parks Associates expects to see more ISPs and CLECs signing up for exhibit space at Connections.

On the cusp of the broadband revolution, gateway solutions took center stage at this year's conference.  In anticipation of the services and networking capabilities widespread broadband connectivity will bring, many major manufacturers and software developers spoke of the intelligent distribution of Internet content and connections throughout the home.

In a rare display of action in this sometimes too-anticipatory field, the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) officially released its specification at a special Connections conference session.  In response to the 60-company-strong OSGi alliance's announcement, CABA executive director Ron Zimmer pointed out, "Collaboration from groups like OSGi, which chose Connections as the venue to launch its new specification amongst 600 of the industry's finest, helped to bring this event to new heights."

The OSGi Spec 1.0 is said to complement virtually all residential networking standards and defines an open standard that enables multiple software services to be loaded and run on a services gateway such as a set-top box, cable modem, DSL modem, PC or dedicated residential gateway.  Initially based on Java technology, the OSGi specification allows multiple value-added services to share the cost of a single services gateway, and gives application service providers, network operators, and device and appliance manufacturers both application and platform independence.  Additionally, the OSGi specification allows a single services gateway to support multiple local networks, such as in-home local area networks, audiovisual networks and control networks.

The OSGi specifications arrives after a year where the residential technology industry has shifted away from basic home networking and toward intelligent gateways.   On that topic, Sage Systems' founder and CEO, Steve Raschke, declared that gateways are useless unless someone pays for them.  In a panel discussion on technical requirements for a residential gateway, Raschke indicated that manufacturers need to engineer to utility and appliance manufacturers' price points.  Sage itself is offering a low-cost, narrowband solution "for people who want to do this now," he said.  In support of this statement, Sage's Aladn powerline technology has been selected by home builder Kaufman and Broad to be included in developments and new home showrooms nationwide beginning this year.

Further on the narrowband side, powerline technology actually had a new standardization incarnation at Connections2000, with the HomePlug Power Alliance, established this April, exhibiting and taking part in the multi-faceted panel discussion on standards.

Gateway product announcements were plenteous at CONNECTIONS 2000, but the potential rather than the actual was the focus of this forward-looking conference.   One potential future scenario was provided by Cisco Systems, Whirlpool and Home Director, who demonstrated an "end-to-end home networking solution," with Cisco's Internet Home Gateway integrated with Home Director's Network Connection Center and Whirlpool's Internet-enabled kitchen.

Cisco's Mike Moone was one of many who addressed the topic of who will be doing all these home network installs.  In the conference's opening keynote, Tricia Parks summed it up well.  The future will be a "do-it-for-me world," where people will rely on systems integrators and residential network installers just as they do on gardeners or other service people.  Parks then indicated Radio Shack's growing installation force as an example of this phenomenon, making one wonder just whom consumers will rely upon for their digital needs.

From the article "Connections Opens Gateway To Home Networking," by Kirsten Nelson.

Next: Forum2000: Empowering the Internet @ Home
Previous: Lucent, PersonalGenie Platinum Sponsors of CONNECTIONS™2000.

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