Next-generation home networking: It's all about cable companies and the set-top box

by Cees Links, CEO, GreenPeak Technologies , TechOnline India - February 21, 2012

Many technology watchers have predicted the arrival of the automated smart home - that home owners will seek out and install the latest, coolest gizmos that will make a house truly smart. Well, it ain't gonna happen that way.

Are consumers ready for the next-generation home network that will transform how all of us will interact with our home entertainment systems, as well as our home's security, energy, health monitoring and environmental systems?

Many technology watchers have predicted the arrival of the automated smart home - that home owners will seek out and install the latest, coolest gizmos that will make a house truly smart. Well, it ain't gonna happen that way.

Instead, powered by ZigBee RF4CE - a low-power, low-data-rate version of Wi-Fi, this new network is the choice of the world's cable companies and service providers as the way to introduce new services and applications to the home.

Cable companies have realized that is not enough to provide high-quality video and web connectivity. If they want to engage their customers and keep them as subscribers in a web connected world, they already have the total infrastructure in place to provide a wide range of other services.

 

 

 

 

RF4CE powered set-top boxes and remote controls can provide the central control point for all the home's entertainment, automation and smart applications.

 

 

It is the cable companies of the world who are launching the new smart homes centered around the ubiquitous set-top box - not the TV makers, not the home after market or security device providers.

At CES 2012, Comcast, one of the largest service providers in the world said it is moving to ZigBee RF4CE with their new Xfinity set-top boxes and remotes.

"We are moving to support ZigBee RF4CE standards-based remote controls and set-tops because they improve the user experience for navigating all our services in the home, while allowing us to make the transition to RF technology in a very cost effective way," said Ted Grauch, Vice President, Video Premise Equipment for Comcast.

Comcast is not alone. Every other service provider in the world is also testing and planning on moving to RF4CE for their set-top boxes and remotes. In addition, several of the world's leading consumer electronics and home entertainment manufacturers are planning on using RF4CE. In Japan, Sony is already using RF4CE in their televisions and remote controls to enable viewers to easily purchase items they see on their TVs.

Within a few years, maybe five, how everyone communicates with their home entertainment and monitoring/control systems will change.

RF4CE benefits

The first roll-outs of ZigBee RF4CE powered remote controls and set-top boxes will provide benefits for the consumer as well as for the cable company. Consumer benefits include the ability to control the TV set and set-top box from anywhere in the house. As ZigBee RF4CE uses 2.4-GHz radio frequencies, consumers will no longer need to aim and shoot their remote control at a small infrared (IR) target sensor on their TV set, Blu-ray player or set-top box.

Even better, this means that set-top boxes no longer need to be located near TV or entertainment systems. Many cable providers have already introduced systems that wirelessly send the video signal from the set-top box to the TV, further freeing the set-top box from the TV set's neighborhood.

In addition to providing exciting usability features for consumers, RF4CE offers numerous cost saving benefits for the service provider. For example, one of the common customer service complaints that cable companies receive is regarding problems with the remote control. Answering and resolving the calls is very expensive for cable companies.
The home user can't get the remote to work or they cannot figure out to program it to allow the remote to control other entertainment devices.

Because it is based on the open RF4CE standard, the new RF remote control is more reliable and has greater range than the old school IR remotes. As RF4CE is also an extreme low-power technology, future remotes will no longer require replaceable or rechargeable batteries to operate.

Tests have demonstrated that a RF4CE remote using technology such as GreenPeak Technology's ultra low-power radios can operate for over 10 years, at over 500 clicks a day, all on a single tiny 3032 coin cell battery. This means no more out-of-power remotes or remotes with broken battery compartment lids - another source of numerous end-user cable subscriber complaints.

RF4CE makes it much easier to program the remote to control other systems in the home as well as new products that come onto the market. As RF4CE supports interactivity, Comcast and other cable companies can easily download the codes for new entertainment devices (TV sets, DVD players, audio gear, etc.) into the set top box which then sends the new codes to the remote. Result - the end user is happy. Fewer customer service calls equal larger profits.

Another cool feature is the "find me" function. Because RF4CE is interactive, it is possible to add a simple button on the TV or set-top box, that when pushed, makes the missing or lost remote start beeping and flashing. This will be a godsend for those with children who keep misplacing the remote.

As RF4CE set-top boxes and remotes continue to roll out, more features can be introduced. These include interactive messaging delivered from the set top box to the remote for programming notifications, advertising, bill payment and product purchases.

In addition, an entire portfolio of "Smart Home" services such as home security, energy monitoring and management, solar panel controls, health monitoring, etc., all controlled through the set-top box, can now be offered by service providers and cable companies. These various services and applications can all communicate to the set-top box via RF4CE and then can be monitored and controlled either by the remote control or via a mobile device over the Internet. As part of the home entertainment package, cable companies will be able to market, supply and install temperature and home environment sensors, security systems, energy management, etc.

No longer just an entertainment supplier, the cable company of tomorrow will become the one-stop source for all the home's smart features and services. From installation to maintenance to monitoring, homeowners will be able to enjoy all the smart automated home's conveniences - all paid for via a single cable bill.

About the author:

Cees Links is the founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies. He is also marketing chair of Zigbee RF4CE. Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed which ultimately became household technology integrated into PCs and notebooks. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers and hotspot base stations. GreenPeak Technologies is a fabless semiconductor company and is a leader in highly integrated IEEE 802.15.4/RF4CE silicon solutions for consumer electronics.

 

Article Courtesy: EE Times

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