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The Connected Home of the Future Understanding market and technology trends
Ganesh Guruswamy
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A lot has been written about intelligent, connected homes - once a distant dream for many sci-fi aficionados. With a range of networking, wireless technologies powered by breakthroughs in electronic design,this vision is closer than you think. Let’s look at some key trends and technologies.

I. Rapid adoption of digital media
An iSuppli study predicts 120 million installed home networks in 2009, from the current 45 million present worldwide today.Over 50% of these will be media-enabled for "anywhere, anytime" access to digital content. Increasing proliferation of digital content such as downloadable music,games and movies is fuelling the demand for converged network platforms.

Most customers seek a simplified user experience; OEMs need reference platforms that for customer premise equipment (CPE) with remote access capabilities and home-based content management over one simple user interface.

A lot of industry collaboration today focuses on hardware/ software reference platforms for "location-free control access" residential gateways. These are designed for OEMs, ODMs and service providers who want to develop digital home CPE keeping in mind time-to-market and cost pressures.

A high level of integration in the communications processor helps lower system costs,improves performance and simplifies board design. A hardware encryption block supporting different algorithms for high-performance data authentication can make communication secure. Also,these reference platforms can leverage external components to support connectivity options and extend functionality.

II. WiMAX for broadband @home
In India, where wired infrastructure and last-mile connectivity are typically through copper cable, DSL and fibre optic, installation costs are high. WiMAX with its true broadband performance and cost advantages is an attractive alternative for last-mile and cellular back haul connectivity.

Wireless broadband adoption can be driven by reference platforms for cost-effective WiMAX CPE that enable OEMs to create converged wired/wireless residential gateways. Today’s evolved residential gateways handle complex QoS requirements and popular applications such as VoIP and security.

The focus is therefore on cost-effective communications processors that enhance performance by running more efficient operations in parallel. Additional functionality,faster interfaces and addressing time to market,price, power usage and board real estate requirements are also key.

OEMs today want hardware and software reference designs that show optimal layout techniques and example software. Semiconductor vendors are therefore creating proofs-of-concept that customers can leverage to design their own boards and speed time-to-market.

III. Homes with ultra-high speed ‘triple play’
GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) technology makes triple-play (voice, video and data) broadband services a reality. It supports IP convergence over optical networks, with high access speeds and is emerging as ‘the’ solution to enable bandwidth-hungry applications like HDTV and Video on Demand, address challenges that constrict delivery of rich content to end users "last mile" infrastructure.

An evolution of the passive optical network (PON) standard, GPON allows Gigabit connectivity via optical cable to the home/ office. It supports higher rates, enhanced security, and choice of Layer 2 protocol such as GEM (GPON Encapsulation Method) and Ethernet. Currently, the industry is typically deploying 2.5Gbps downstream and 1.25Gbps upstream split between 32 users for super-fast internet connectivity and triple play services.

In line with market needs, our industry is collaborating to deliver compatible, interoperable and cost-effective GPON technology that can deliver "triple play" services and meet the needs of several other applications. However, this presents several technical challenges. For e.g., handling the increased packet rates in GPON can strain traditional processor architectures that are more suited for traditional WAN interfaces such as DSL and Cable. A robust hardware-based datapath for the solution, with integrated software drivers can address this concern.

VoIP replaces the traditional analog telephone in a GPON setup and voice quality is another concern since analog phone users expect very high voice quality and reliability. From VoIP algorithms, system frameworks to customer enhancements, semiconductor companies are enabling world-class voice quality technologies to meet the real-time demands of a quality VoIP implementation.

Recent breakthroughs such as the industry’s first voice-enabled Gigabit Passive Optical Networking (GPON) system-on-chip solution deliver a complete PON sub-system in a single device. The SoC integrates computing, digital signal processing and data path engine technology for the convergence of IP packet and optical networks.

A lot more is in the pipeline–home appliances and energy fixtures monitored and controlled wirelessly, seamless streaming, sharing and storage of digital content across a multitude of devices are set to revolutionize digital home technology. These will be powered by next-generation processors and architectures that increase processing capabilities without dramatically increasing power consumption and highly integrated solutions such as Media server-in-a-box platforms that help OEMs and accelerate the development and time-to-market for next-generation home media servers.

Their success will depend greatly on what the consumer finally embraces. But with technology, we dream of a converged world with intelligence and connectivity embedded everywhere.
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