The State of Wireless London


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The Home Network

WLAN equipment was originally developed for indoor use in the office and in the home, in order to un-tether laptops and ease the installation of networks by eliminating cable runs. Their use outdoor in hotspots and in freenetwork infrastructure was and still is perhaps a secondary usage of the technology, though a powerful one.

While the existing wireless explosion is being attributed to people wishing to spread their broadband to every room in the house, analysts suggest that 2004 will see the arrival of media adapters, that use WLANs to connect all the digital and networked devices that are beginning to appear in the home. Digital camera’s, MP3 players, digital video camera’s, TV recorders, baby monitors, cordless telephones, computers, games machines can all be linked together using home networks, and then connected to the external internet.

“In-Stat/MDR expects that many low-cost home networking specialists
will roll out 802.11g wireless media adapters with a focus on media
streaming, in 2004.” [50]_

Such a home network is set to bridge the gap between networked devices in the home but also between the video camera and the television, the computer and the stereo. Linux users have for some time been building media servers for the living room based around computers that blur all the format boundaries in home entertainment, and fan-less devices based on small mini-itx motherboards are appearing in all shapes and forms. [56]_ These types of devices are also appearing in models from familiar consumer electronics suppliers.

Combined with a home network, digital content creation tools and media servers, there is the potential for the home to become a site of content creation on a wide scale. If this is combined with a local high speed free or extremely low cost broadband network infrastructure then the conditions will exist for the creation of a user-driven media.

This presents the possibility of a rich media version of what the internet has done for text and image, with all areas in the chain of media creation, post production, distribution and viewing available at the edge of the network rather than in central locations. Such developments may facilitate greater media autonomy.

Who Owns the Home Network?

If the view of the future outlined in the previous section sounds familiar, it is. The story about an autonomous media prefigures each wave of technological change in the media. As media developments have shown in the last few years, during a period when the Internet was supposed to free consumers from the dominant media, we see that media ownership continues to be dominated by a small number of large players. The existence of the network has rather than reversed the balance between ‘consumer’ and producer in favour of the consumer, perhaps allowed new spaces for the market driven media to inhabit.

At the same time the very same network has spawned developments such as peer to peer file sharing that has decimated music industry revenues, so this increasing fluidity has not been entirely a one-way street. The network cuts both ways.

In other networks such as mobile telephones, where the network is more tightly controlled, and content provision on the network and billing infrastructures more tightly integrated, there have been much larger gains for the commercial content provider. 10% of music industry revenue in 2003 was from downloading of ring tones. [57]_ An Imode service offering 16 Manga backdrops a month for mobile phone screens signed up 2 million subscribers at $2 a month. Figures like these suggest that ownership of a network and the content that is delivered over it can be linked.

The Home Network Commercial Providers are using the opportunity provided by the technological changes associated with the arrival of WLANs to move into the home, closer to the living room and the possibilities afforded by a closer integration with the site of consumer’s media usage.

The message of Consume was to take control of your own network infrastructure, let the ownership of the network expand from the personal non-marketed space of the home or office out into the wider public spaces. In a similar way, commercial vendors are using exactly the same WLAN technology to extend the reach of their marketed ADSL networks into the home.

” 6.17 Wi-Fi being is also being used as part of a bundling strategy. Recent developments include:

In the UK, BT is planning to offer a “triple play” of a fixed broadband line, wireless home network and public WiFi.

In France and Germany, the incumbent service providers are packaging DSL services with WiFi networking for the home.

In Germany this has been extremely successful, T-Com started marketing Wi-Fi heavily at the end of March 2003 and has sold 70,000 Wi-Fi devices. It sells about 10% of all TDSL lines in the context of WiFi marketing.” [16]_

As well as being used as a way to reverse media delivery network hierarchies WLAN is also being used as a way of extending those hierarchies into the entertainment cortex of the surround-sound enabled living room, making sure that the signal is heard in every room of the house.