Industry wisens up to home networking

CE vendors and retailers are enjoying strong demand for networked multimedia products as the GCC region's construction boom continues to drive consumer uptake of smart home technology.

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By  Administrator Published  September 9, 2007

After promising so much but delivering so little for much of the past decade, the home networking market has grown dramatically in the past 12 months, with a raft of vendors and application developers targeting the sector.

This unprecedented growth is largely tied to the ongoing development of wireless broadband networks in the GCC region's developed markets, which is spurring demand for Wi-Fi-enabled consumer electronics devices.

The upshot of this trend is an increase in consumer demand for home-based wireless network applications linking household appliances via a central server.

Retailers report the home entertainment segment as driving this boom in the market; a development that vendors have taken note of.

This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) expo in Las Vegas, USA, saw vendors launch a raft of new products hoping to meet consumer demand in this market segment.

Research firm In-Stat predicts that the digital home server market will more than double within three years to be worth $17 billion.

Rival industry analyst ABI Research claims that networking technologies are 'transforming' the consumer electronics industry.

The firm predicts that Wi-Fi-enabled product shipments will rise from 40 million units in 2006 to 249 million units by 2011.

This product segment has seen traditional IT companies broaden their scope with Hewlett Packard (HP), Microsoft and Apple all committing significant resources to developing applications designed to enable the wireless distribution of media content to multiple devices over a home network.

HP markets a range of wireless-receiver equipped high definition LCD TVs, which are capable of receiving content remotely from a PC.

The firm's 37-inch MediaSmart LCD TV enables users to download content from the internet as well as access information from other home based devices using a wireless network.

Microsoft has placed its Xbox 360 console at the centre of its home-based multimedia network strategy. The company has been expanding the device's role beyond its orthodox gaming capacities with the introduction of the high definition (HD) DVD add-on recently introduced to the US market.

Xbox-users can also download movies and share content through the product's member-site. More recently the company announced plans for the device to support internet protocol-based television (IPTV) services.

Company chairman Bill Gates has underlined the firm's intentions to boost its presence in the consumer electronics field, claiming that digital convergence will revolutionise both the consumer electronics and IT markets.

Gates claimed earlier this year that "the word 'PC' is now a word that encompasses a lot of different things; everything from a six- to 60-inch screen is now possible with the new technologies available".

Global market research firm Frost & Sullivan reports that the global set-top box market pulled in revenues of $1.7 billion in 2006, and estimates that by 2010 that figure will have more than doubled, equating to a colossal $4.23 billion.

"The introduction of IPTV functionalities such as digital video recording (DVR) presents a great opportunity for the growth of the set top box market worldwide," says Frost & Sullivan analyst Natarajan Krishnamurthy.

Apple's entry into the home networking market is closely linked to the current iPod success story. However, the firm hopes to massively impact the market once again with its Apple TV (previously touted as the 'iTV').

Some industry figures have expressed disappointment at the Apple TV's picture resolution of 720p. However, the device's ability to connect to up-to five separate PCs combined with Apple's pervasive marketing presence has led many to predict that it will become a central hub for many of the region's digital homes.

Consumer electronics manufacturers are matching these initiatives with the development of 'smart' appliances and proprietary home network solutions.

A Samsung spokesperson claims that the company's Home Vita home networking application portfolio has proven massively popular with consumers in South Korea and in certain European markets.

"The technology provides homeowners access to a range of functionalities, including remote control of appliances, wireless multimedia networking and home security applications," he explains.

Samsung's other entries in this segment include the IPTV series of flatscreen displays that are designed to enable users to watch video content streamed from the internet.

The company's SMT-7020S model supports broadband connectivity for web-browsing on TV sets, video-on-demand features and is capable of sharing multimedia files with multiple PCs on a home-based network.

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