Future homes

CommsMEA takes a look at the latest advances in technology that are making their way into consumer's homes.

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By  Administrator Published  December 29, 2008

CommsMEA takes a look at the latest advances in technology that are making their way into consumer's homes.

Technology that used to only be found in the workplace is now common in many homes across the region. With the rapid development taking place in many Gulf countries, the region is leading the way in the development of ‘smart homes', aided by the rise in IP-based products.

Such technology is also paving the way for unified communications solutions to make their way out of the office and into the home.

ABI Research expects the number of web browsers embedded in consumer electronics devices like digital TVs, game consoles, and set top boxes to grow from 60 million shipped in 2008 to 214 million by 2013.

Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Technologies is helping to provide the backbone that can connect the various IP enabled devices together with traditional home-based technology through its ‘iHome' technology, which it has targeted at developers, consultants and end users.

Despite the rise in home-based and mobile communication devices, convergence is one area where consumers have often been underserved.

Enterprise users are usually the focus of vendors who are looking to launch their unified communications offerings, but for Helsinki-based Movial, consumers with disparate devices represent an untapped market for operators.

Earlier this year, Portuguese operator Optimus started to sell Movial's ‘Communicator' product under the brand name ‘Tag', as a youth-focused unified communications product that lets users combine their PCs with their mobile phones.

"This is a communication service that can run on anybody's network," says Movial CEO, Jari Ala-Ruona. Movial's PC client software combines IM, SMS, MMS, email, VoIP, video telephony, voice and video mail. "It transfers all incoming phone calls and texts for my mobile phone number now to my PC.

So if I'm in the basement where GSM coverage isn't so good, now I can get all my calls and SMS on to my PC - it's really about getting all your mobile services on to one system," he says.

Rise in IP-technology

The rising sales of laptops and netbooks, and an increase in IP-capable televisions means the living room is now open to technology that may once have been confined to whichever room contained a household's desktop PC.

ABI research director Michael Wolf says: "Most forward-thinking consumer electronics vendors today are integrating IP ports in their mainline consumer electronics devices.

The push to bring web surfing, over-the-top video content, social networking and other web 2.0 applications to consumer electronics is creating a need to integrate browsing engines and dynamic user interfaces as well as other platforms for content rendering."

Wolf adds that the integration of web browsers into digital TVs is already common in Japan and is increasingly common in North America, with vendors such as Sony integrating browsers as a way to help deliver web services, and Yahoo's announcements about porting its widget platform to the living room.

Head of strategic businesses and new initiatives for Al Futtaim Technologies, Akshay Lamba, says the iHome service was launched in May, at the CES Hometech Show in the UAE.

"The home infrastructure can be connected into the city-wide infrastructure which in turn is typically connected into the internet. This allows the users to control most aspects of the home using a web browser, PDA or WAP phone, and additional modules that enable the user to control via SMS are also available.

"We showcased a fully integrated apartment controlling and monitoring all aspects of the home, including lighting, security, HVAC, blinds, centralised music, videos and other electro-mechanical equipment within the home," he adds.

One month before this, Optimus Tag went on sale, with a Tag Sim card and PC software, with all calls between Tag subscribers included in the EUR10 (US$12.7) monthly charge, including a limited amount of data usage for the MSN service, with calls to other networks charged outside the flat rate fee. The product is aimed at the teenage market, with loud colours and oversized fonts on the faux tin can packaging.

"What we did was put it into a nice format, so that when customers go to a shop, you buy a can of Tag, which has the Sim card and your mobile phone subscription, and the mini CD that loads you the application. Bundling is the key, and making it tangible," Ala-Ruona says.

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