Digital Home Summit sees huge market for connected residences

TORONTO — There is widespread interest in the notion of a “connected home” networked to distribute media, automate lighting and security, and even allow remote control of a home’s functions over the Internet, executives told the first Canadian Digital Home Summit Tuesday.

Almost three-quarters of North Americans familiar with the concept say they’ll adopt connected home technologies, but probably not tomorrow – perhaps five to 20 years down the line, said Ron Zimmer, president and CEO of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA). Of new North American homes being built, 42 per cent offer structured wiring for data and media transmission as either standard or as an upgrade. They’re also offering technologies like monitored security (17.7 per cent), home theatre (9.2 per cent) and distributed audio (8.6 per cent). The technology is largely installed by electrical and security contractors (75.6 and 72.5 per cent, respectively), with systems integrators a distant third (34.6 per cent).

“The big money is in existing homes, the retro market,” where installing structured wiring is a difficult and expensive proposition, said Zimmer. That’s a leg up for wireless home automation technologies – ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth and the like.

A Decima Research poll conducted Feb. 8 to 12 drilled down into consumer attitudes about specific networked home technologies. They fell into three broad categories, according to Rick Nadeau, a Decima vice-president specializing in digital services. 

The technologies that sparked the most consumer interest fell into the home management category – safety and security systems, smart thermostats, home energy monitoring. “These are notions to which the mass can relate, not just the early adopter,” Nadeau said.

Entertainment technologies – distributed audio and video, Internet TV – made up the second category, while “new age” technologies – remote kitchen appliance management, cell phone control over thermostats, and the like – formed a less-popular tier. Still, noted Nadeau, 34 per cent liked the idea of a Web-connected fridge, and six per cent would buy one today. “That still bodes well for the Internet-enabled refrigerator,” he said.

Interest in a totally digital home, though, is still “a niche concept,” mostly among young, early adopters and high-income demographics, he said. 

The picture became muddier when Decima asked who should install the technology. Internet providers, home energy providers and telcos ranked highest as preferred supplier segments. But when a doesn’t specific brands were thrown into the mix, home energy providers Enbridge and Direct Energy were near the bottom of the list. That could be because of their regional nature, Nadeau suggested, though “brand baggage” could also be a factor: “They’re only as good as your last customer experience.”

Near the top were two cablecos (television service providers as a segment ranked second last), and, curiously, Microsoft, though as one audience member remarked, “I’ve been in the technology business for 20 years and Microsoft hasn’t installed anything.” Nadeau said that Canadians see the digital home notion as “leading-edge,” and thus can picture Microsoft in the space.

And though Bell was also a popular choice, its digital home efforts are focused on content and connectivity. “I’m still struggling with the Internet appliance and what the value proposition of the internet appliance is,” Patrick McLean, general manager of consumer Internet services for Bell, said in a later session. “I don’t see a clear answer or a clear strategy” for telcos to deliver such installations, he said.

The Canadian Digital Home Summit runs through Wednesday.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.

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