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Highlights from Parks Associates' Forum98: Hidden Treasures @ Home

Parks Associates hosted its eleventh cross-industry conference on residential systems and services, Forum98: Hidden Treasures @ Home, in Bal Harbor, Florida on November 18-20. The conference attracted over 170 attendees from multiple industries.

The conference centered on three major themes: in-home networks, the Internet, and innovations in residential systems, services, and distribution channels. A common thread linking all three themes is the ultimate treasure for companies marketing residential products and services: the consumer.

Speakers from multiple industries provided attendees with a variety of perspectives and a wealth of information on the residential marketplace. Below are some of the highlights from the conference proceedings.

Clue to Hidden Treasures @ Home: Know Thy Consumer

It is the consumer who ultimately determines successes or failures of residential products and services. This industry maxim was a recurring theme throughout Forum98 and was the subject of the opening speech at the conference. Mark Cavender, a partner of The Chasm Group, delivered the keynote address, where he discussed consumers' technology adoption life cycle. The life cycle model he illustrated reveals market acceptance of discontinuous innovations through a bell curve that provides a time-based projection of how different types of consumers adopt a technology-based product.

Gopal Ahluwalia of the National Association of Home Builders, Susan Robinson of Market Facts, and Tricia Parks of Parks Associates, also presented their perspectives on consumers' needs, wants, and purchase behaviors. In reminding her clients to understand their customers, Tricia Parks, President of Parks Associates, commented, "The depth of understanding the consumer makes the difference between talk and being serious about marketing."

In-Home Networks: No New Wires, More Wires, Better Wires, or All of Them?

Speakers presented multiple in-home networking solutions that can enable new applications and link isolated devices together: the traditional powerline-based network, phoneline-based network (HomePNA), wireless network (ShareWave and HomeRF), and structured wiring solutions (Lucent, IBM, Greyfox, Bell Atlantic, etc.). There were debates on which solution is best suited for the home, and there were questions on whether existing poor-quality phoneline wiring in most American homes can handle high-speed data or whether RF will be robust and secure enough for networking purposes. Of course, no consensus was reached. "There is no single solution that will meet all types of technical criteria and all in-home networking needs," said Parks Associates. "Lucent Technologies is not only providing structured wiring products but also making a bet on HomePNA."

Surfing a New Wave of Internet Service Platforms

While most consumers are only familiar with dial-up Internet services, several new access forms are emerging, including digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modems, and TV-based Internet service. WorldGate's general manager David Wachob presented the Company's PC-less Internet access technology and its competitive advantages over set-top appliances such as WebTV. While WorldGate's technology uses cable TV networks in the same fashion as cable modems, Wachob pointed out that WorldGate is a complement, rather than a direct competitor, to cable modem service, as the latter uses the PC as an Internet access device.

Gary Bolton of Nortel networks explained what Nortel's 1-Meg modem can do. The modem, very similar to a G.lite ADSL modem, has won $1 billion in orders for Nortel, Bolton said. Willian Bailey of Cisco Systems and Sanjeev Verma of Motorola presented their perspectives on broadband Internet services to the home via cable modem, DSL, broadband gateways, etc., predicting a new paradigm of high-speed Internet services and applications in a networked home.

Innovations In Residential Systems, Services, And Distribution Channels

Forum98 provided a great opportunity for a discussion of innovations in residential systems, services, and distribution channels. Below are some examples:

HDTV - Gary Shapiro, president of CEMA, discussed high-definition TV in a keynote luncheon speech, proclaiming a slower-than-expected but inevitable arrival of HDTV and the drop of prices of HDTV sets as market volume builds up. "One hundred years from now, people won't talk about Monica. They'll focus on the shift to digital," Shapiro said.

Distributing home control products via the Internet - X-10 has had great success using three Web sites to provide distribution channels at retail, wholesale, and dealer levels.

Premise wiring from an RBOC - Bell Atlantic owns the largest premise wiring company in the United States, supporting all Bell Atlantic lines of business and developing a whole house solution that includes structured wiring.

Community networking - Goswick Associates is developing a new model for community networking in Houston, Texas. The network provides interactive community information, locators for community resources, self publishing, chat rooms, community bulletin boards, and other community-level services.

IP in the Home - By providing for home control over the Internet and allowing appliances and consumer electronic equipment to communicate via IP packets, Cisco Systems is hoping to bring IP applications into residences. William Bailey of Cisco Systems talked about Cisco's vision of a home network and multi-service integration with IP as the unifying protocol.

Networked bodies - IBM design engineer Winslow Burleson unveiled some new computer product concepts that will further change people's lives. Business card information may be transferred via a handshake. Beds will become "intelligent" and ensure proper sleep positioning. A talking couch will provide reminders. These, according to Burleson, are but a few of the technologies that may be commercially available in the future.

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