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IBM Says It's Time for 'Smart Homes'

Does the thought of your microwave oven talking to your PDA or your home security system feeding info to your notebook PC sound a bit farfetched to you?

If it does, you don't work for IBM's Pervasive Computing Division. Saying "it's time" for the concept of the connected home to become a reality, Mark Morneault, manager, Device-led Solutions at IBM's Pervasive Computing group, said the company will announce on Tuesday that IBM is joining the Internet Home Alliance as a principal and board member.

The alliance is a nonprofit group whose goal is to promote cross-industry collaboration, research and real-world testing opportunities for concepts and products such Smart Home, VOiP, Interactive TV, games, video conferencing and video on demand.

The discussions are hardly new. The concept of the "Smart Home" dates back to the days when 56Kbps modems were wish-list items. The increasing adoption of broadband services thanks to cable and DSL access, however, is paving the proverbial information superhighway for what IBM describes as thing-to-thing computing.

The connected home, according to Morneault, is an end- to-end model involving software, chip sets, open standards, applications and infrastructure. Big Blue's commitment to the concept "runs across all divisions of IBM."

As large and widespread as IBM is, it understands that to usher pervasive technology into homes will take many companies working together. "We realize we can't do it by ourselves. We need to create a large ecosystem," Morneault told ASPnews.

The big question about the connected home, of course, is who will make money from it? Morneault says that service providers stand to benefit as they use data technologies to create new sources of revenue. And while broadband is becoming increasingly prevalent in homes, the availability of entertainment and productivity-enhancing services will give those who haven't moved to broadband a compelling reason to do so. "The goal is to both add services for providers and also to help improve broadband adoption rates and lower churn rates," Morneault said.

"Opportunities exist for what we call xSPs to aggregate and provide services," Morneault said. "There will be many portals." IBM WebSphere Portal Server, for example, is designed to offer customers a single point for interacting with applications, content, processes and people.

In addition to broadband technology, Morneault says that wireless technology is also a key to advancing the connected home concept. "802.11 has been a savior." So what are we waiting for?

The thinking among IBM and other key companies is that the pieces are in place. What remains is to show how it can all be tied together and productized. To provide those examples, the Internet Home Alliance reports that pilot programs are currently underway to create and test new Internet-based home technologies:

  • The OnStar at Home pilot focuses on the integration of OnStar's Virtual Advisor service with home security, control and telecommunications components
  • Structured Wiring pilot is designed to track the behavior of builders and consumers before, during and after new homes with structured wiring are built.
  • Internet-Enabled Education pilot, which the alliance said has been completed, addressed Internet-enabled information access among a group of students, faculty and faculty advisors.
  • Energy Management pilot, also recently completed, tested the viability of a remote controlled thermostat solution in more than 300 homes.
IBM is joined by seven other new members of the Internet Home Alliance:
    Motive Communications Inc.— enables technology innovators to create a new generation of "smart products" that deliver service as an integral part of the user experience.

    Symbol Technologies Inc. — offers secure mobile information systems that integrate application-specific hand-held computers with wireless networks for data and voice and bar code data capture.

    Lutron Electronics — core products include residential dimmer switches, home theater dimming solutions, whole-home dimming systems, commercial integrated systems and motorized window treatments.

    Premise Systems — adds automation and control software to electronic devices, including home entertainment equipment, appliances, lighting, security and environmental control systems.

    Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. — produces semiconductor, telecommunication, and digital convergence technology.

    Sunbeam Products Inc. — consumer products produced under such brands as Sunbeam, Oster, Mr. Coffee, Grillmaster and Healthometer.

Other members of the Internet Home Alliance include ADT Security Services, Best Buy, Cisco Systems, CompUSA, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Invensys, Panasonic, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Sun Microsystems and Whirlpool Corp.
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