What is driving and enabling the Networked Home?  This question is common among homebuyers who don’t want their new home to become obsolete before they sell and move out (or even before they move in).  Builders also ask it, since they don’t want to add new features until customers demand them.  

And companies that make the products, services, and technologies want to understand the market opportunities, leverage points, alliances and risks.  Although the question is simple enough to ask, the answer can be complex, since it is surrounded by a collection of market, economy and technology trends.

This is the first of three articles that will each examine key trends enabling and driving the development of the Networked Home.  The first article covers Science and Technology Trends, followed by articles on Market and Consumer Trends, and finally Social and Economic Trends.  Your comments and suggestions are encouraged.

This photo shows the console of a circa 1975 mainframe computer (IBM System/370 model 158), which could execute one million instructions per second and support hundreds of users, but it required a large computer room with raised floor and water cooling, and it cost well over $1 million.

In contrast, the PC period introduced the idea of one computer per user, and today’s high-end PC can execute instructions nearly 1,000 times faster than the 1975 mainframe. 

1. Mobility — Many of today’s handheld PCs, PDAs, and Internet enabled cellular phones are more powerful than the early desktop PCs (and the 1975 mainframe).  More importantly, they are mobile and not tied to a desktop, so e-Commerce becomes m-Commerce.  With location sensing, you’ll be able to ask for directions from your current location and receive personalized ads that are specific to your surroundings and context.  Expect these mobile devices to interface with public networks, office networks, and home networks.

2. Broadband Networks – Competition is finally giving many consumers the ability to choose from several high-speed Internet alternatives, including DSL, cable modem, and wireless.  Because the cost of these networks is easier to justify if shared among several PCs or appliances, home network performance has improved at a similar rate.  For long-haul networks, advances in fiber optics could cause a bandwidth glut and commodity pricing – the combined result of more fiber bundles, covering longer distances (including under the sea), getting closer to homes (as the “last mile” gets shorter it gains capacity), using more colors of the spectrum (wavelength division multiplexing, or WDM), with faster pulsing (better lasers), and more efficient compression (improved semiconductors).  Following the lead of Japan and Europe, third generation wireless networks will offer broadband performance in the U.S. by 2003, with speeds of about 1Mbps.  That’s enough to support video conferencing or Internet radio on a cellular phone.

3. Embedded Computing & Networking – With system-on-a-chip designs that put PC power on your fingertip, embedded computing and networking has moved us from the 1975 mainframe era of hundreds of people per computer, to today’s hundreds (and tomorrow’s thousands) of microprocessors per person.  This is enabling a vision of a million online businesses, a billion wired users, and a trillion connected devices. 

4. Transparent Technology– It disappears into everyday devices:  doorknobs, light switches, smoke detectors, major appliances, jewelry, clothing, etc.  While many PC and consumer electronics products will network using advanced wiring systems, refrigerators will instead employ powerlines, and mobile devices will use wireless. 

5. Metcalfe’s Law – Metcalfe’s Law, which states that network benefit increases as a square of the # of connected devices, is starting to replace Moore’s Law as the driving force.  Rather than operate in standalone fashion, the varied smart devices will gain added value by sharing information.  Gateways will be used to bridge between different network media and protocols.

6. Moore’s Law – Cheaper, smaller, and faster, with CPU performance doubling every 18 months.  At that rate, we’ll see half a trillion operations per second – 500 times faster than today’s fastest PCs – in just 15 years.  That’s just half way through a 30-year mortgage.  Likewise, everyday devices with embedded processors could be 10-50 times faster than today’s fastest PCs.  They will surely be networked, and at current growth rates, speeds will exceed 1 gigabit per second in that timeframe.

CPU MHz4.77 MHz600 MHz28.98%2,76227,27427 GHz
CPU MIPS.3 MIPS988 MIPS53.16%12,752591,341600 GIPS
Memory Capacity.064 MB64 MB43.84%56715,00015 GB
Disk Capacity.180 MB20000 MB84.32%160,00022,000,00022 TB
Modem Speed.300 Kbps1500 Kbps56.56%22,0001,250,0001.2 Gbps

 7. Everything Digitized– The electronic distribution of publications, pictures, music and videos has already begun.  Big issues remain, such as protecting intellectual property, but they will be solved; and nothing will stop the overall migration of analog to digital and atoms to electrons.  This will drive demand for storage capacity, which will consume the projected 22 terabytes of information that could be in home servers in 2015.  The efficiency of digital networks allows service providers to cut costs while carrying different kinds of content and creating new revenue streams.  By 2010, nearly every home in America will likely have at least one gateway device to terminate these networks and adapt them to legacy devices. 

8. Solid-state Memory – Digital cameras and music players have driven demand for solid-state memory through the roof, and manufacturers can’t keep up.  The capacity of Compact Flash memory cards will reach 256MB this year and 1GB next year.  Within 2-3 years, a postage stamp-sized memory card will be able to hold a feature length movie or days worth of digital music.  Imagine a Blockbuster Video store housed in a kiosk.

9. Wearable computing – With perpetual wireless connections to the Internet, its sea of information, and our own, wearables will extend our memories and our mental capacity while revolutionizing learning.  The heaviest computing tasks will take place on servers with huge data stores, and the user interface will become part of our clothing, watches, glasses, etc. 

10. Display Technologies – Displays are simultaneously getting tiny (for heads-up displays or handhelds) and huge (for video walls), while image resolution is improving (HDTV).  Heads-up displays and speech I/O free our hands for cooking, home repairs, and similar tasks.  The wireless headphone evolves into a personal home theater. 

11. Video Conferencing – Improvements in Internet latency and quality of service promise to take video conferencing beyond the tiny PC window of Microsoft NetMeeting into the mainstream.  If you live or work apart from family, friends and colleagues, this application creates a sense that they are just feet away.  From home, you can fully participate in meetings and classes.

12. Information Appliances – Counter-top network computers, Net TVs, game consoles, screen phones, PDAs and other information appliances are gaining momentum while the PC is loosing it.  By using Internet standards to connect to network services, manufacturers are no longer tied to using Microsoft software and Intel processors.  Instead of Windows CE, they could just as easily use BeOS, Linux, OS9000, pSOS, Symbian, VxWorks, or anything with a Java virtual machine.  Likewise, the choice of processors includes ARM, Hitachi, i960, MIPS, M68000, PowerPC, Sparc, StrongARM, Z80, and others.  Although Intel and Microsoft are just bit players in the appliance markets, they have each set their sights on this space.

13. Middleware to Bring Order – So much diversity could cause chaos if it were not for Internet standards and middleware to handle translation, compression, authentication, secure commerce, rights management, data warehousing, etc.

14. Device Discovery – Adding new devices must become automatic, meaning they must be able to sense a network, announce their presence and capabilities, and find needed services.  Emerging protocols for device and service discovery include Sun Microsystem’s Jini, Microsoft’s UPnP, and Salutation.  ProSyst, a company that offers embedded Java technologies, is working to combine these different protocols into a single gateway device so they can interoperate.

15. Embedded Sensors and Actuators – They will become part of the fabric of our environment, helping to conserve energy, offering comfort and security, fostering learning, monitoring health, controlling entertainment, permitting communication, and generally improving the quality of life.  The house will listen (far-field mics), see (image arrays), feel (temperature, touch & vibration), and smell (smoke & dangerous gasses).  Biometrics (fingerprint, voice and iris recognition) will improve security, and non-invasive biosensors will track and report our wellness (pulse, temp, blood pressure, blood oxygen, etc.).

16. Artificial Intelligence – Learning Agents, Fuzzy Logic, Natural Language, and similar technologies will work with sensors to give the home an awareness of occupant behavior and the environment so home systems can adapt automatically.

17. Robotics – Home automation and robotics systems will act on their own to perform many tasks that get difficult with age, thus extending our ability to live independently and lessening our need for eldercare.

18. Environmentally Friendly Energy Sources – As photovoltaic and fuel cells eventually fall in price, the power grid could become more like a reservoir (for both giving and receiving power), as opposed to a fire hose (for just giving).  

Home systems to manage the energy flow have not been developed yet.19. Structured Wall Systems – In a derivative of the “manufactured home” concept, home-building components will probably come complete with communication infrastructure, ductwork, power, sensor arrays, etc.  

They will be assembled on site and connected to backbone networks.20. Increasing Pace – Improved development tools (programming, web design, etc.) in the hands of more people, along with the ability for anyone to become a publisher, is making it easier to create even better tools, thus increasing the pace of change with a spiraling effect.