We at the Cirrent team spent much of this week at the Parks Connections Conference in San Francisco. The conference pulled in an incredible group of people who are working on the thorniest issues around connected products. Coming out of this week I'm more confident than ever that most products will be connected in the future.I was on a panel with some of the brightest minds working to improve Wi-Fi for connected products:
- Justin Doucette, Sr Dir, Product Management, Linksys & Wemo, Belkin International
- Sanjay Noronha, Product Manager for Wireless and Networking, Google
- Phil Pyo, Sr. Director Product Marketing, NETGEAR
- Bruce Wright, Business Development Director, Americas Business Unit, AirTies Wireless Networks
- Moderator: Harry Wang, Senior Research Director, Parks Associates
With more than a billion broadband homes worldwide, Wi-Fi is by far the leading technology for connecting "things". Gartner says there are more than 2 billion Wi-Fi connected products shipping per year today, and that is forecasted to grow rapidly over the next few years. But the panel highlighted some of the improvements that are needed to unlock this market.
Wi-Fi coverage was the biggest issue raised by the panelists. People can get coverage for their iPads by walking to the other room, but with a security camera above the garage or a doorbell camera, Wi-Fi needs to cover a larger area than ever before. There are some great innovations coming from retail router companies like NETGEAR, Google, and Linksys (owned by Belkin) for whole-home Wi-Fi using mesh networks. Internet service providers are also rolling out whole-home Wi-Fi solutions: Comcast has announced their xFi platform, and other network operators are using AirTies technology to deploy whole-home Wi-Fi building off the home router people already use. You can expect Wi-Fi coverage to improve dramatically for many millions of customers with these whole-home Wi-Fi mesh solutions.
Many connected products - like TVs, streaming media, and Wi-Fi cameras - need consistent high-speed connections. However, with range issues, interference from the huge growth in the number of connected products, and mobility, consumers often run into speed limitations. They blame their ISP for these problems, and both ISPs and retail router companies are innovating to solve this problem for customers.
Many of the Wi-Fi solutions discussed on the panel optimize not only coverage, but also Wi-Fi speed. By dynamically steering products to use the right mesh node, Wi-Fi speeds can improve by an order of magnitude.
One issue that impacts all connected products is managability. Getting devices connected and keeping them connected is an issue that hits everyone in the ecosystem: network operators, router manufacturers, product companies, and consumers. This is especially true for headless Wi-Fi products like home entertainment, audio, toys, appliances, and smart home products.
The best practice today is Wi-Fi SoftAP (also known as soft access point), which is a challenge for mainstream users: Accenture estimates that 20% of users fail to get their products connected, and Argus Insights found that nearly 40% of negative reviews of connected products result from connectivity and setup issues. Impoving the Wi-Fi out-of-box experience for connected products is important in reducing support and returns costs and driving the broader adoption of these products. This becomes even clearer when you envision a future where you have 100 connected products in your home, and then you have to change your SSID and password -- you'd spend the whole weekend getting everything reconnected!
We agreed that easier Wi-Fi onboarding and more effective Wi-Fi mangement are critical issues that need to be addressed for the industry to meet the growth expectations.
Where do we go from here?
All of the companies represented by the people on the panel are doing great work to take the great Wi-Fi we use every day and make it better. Solving the coverage, speed, and manageability issues will elminate some of the key barriers to the broad adoption of connected products and enable the future where we really can expect 50-100 connected products per home.
It was an honor to be on a panel with these other experts, and with the good work being done by these companies you should keep an eye on Wi-Fi: it's only going to get better!