Internet Protocol television (IPTV) faces an uphill struggle to penetrate the consumer market if it remains a stand-alone pay-TV service.
In an industry dominated by incumbent cable and satellite operators, as well as traditional terrestrial free-to-air network broadcasters, Gartner says IPTV operators need to entice consumers with a range of bundled services, including IP-based home networking, offering a one-stop, whole-home solution.
"Although today's newest, leading-edge PC-based home networks are able to deliver high-quality video and audio around the home, most consumer electronic products, such as TVs, digital set-top boxes (STBs), and DVD players, remain stubbornly isolated in their ability to communicate with other equipment over a wide area," says Paul O'Donovan, principal research analyst at Gartner.
"As the internet increasingly becomes a source for video consumption by a wider family audience, there is a need to address this issue and expand home-networking options."
Gartner believes that the STB is well-placed to become a core component of an entertainment-based home network, particularly in countries with a high number of cable TV homes (penetration of 40 per cent or above) or countries with a large number of homes passed by cable TV.
In the US, cable companies have already introduced home-networking solutions using cable STBs linked by existing coaxial cable. This has distinct advantages, because in many US homes, most rooms are already connected with coaxial cable, so no new wires are required to bring the home network together.
IPTV pay-TV services can use the existing coaxial networks in US homes; many homes have multiple coaxial sockets. However, few houses in Europe, Japan and Asia/Pacific have multiple TV sockets around the home, so a networking solution based on coaxial cabling using pay-TV STBs from cable or IPTV operators is less likely to be commercially viable in these regions. Instead, STBs with wireless connectivity – using, for example, 802.11n – could be an opportunity for pay-TV operators in these regions.
"As long as it was simple for consumers to set up and gave a good quality of service, this would also have the advantage of being able to connect into an existing PC wireless network," says O'Donovan. "However, for ease of installation and consistency of service in the home, a network combining wired and wireless technologies will be the most successful topology."
The real commercial advantage for the telecom companies will be their ability to offer consumers bundled services, such as broadband internet access, mobile cellular services, and voice and IPTV services, including voice over IP. This combination of services can be networked around the home, offering flexibility and one-stop provision from a single supplier, which will be enticing for the average customer.
Gartner expects home networking to become commonplace in consumer electronic hardware in the next five to six years, predicting that whether consumers need the functionality or not, it will be embedded in many products.