Aiming to shape the "connected home"
Linking consumers' phones, TVs and the Internet with faster
broadband is telecoms' goal for homes of the future.
By Kimberly S. Johnson
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Qwest chief executive Ed Mueller talks enthusiastically about
the day when a consumer's phone, television, e-mail and security
services are all interconnected.
"Qwest is the broadband backbone," he said during a recent
interview. "We see ourselves as the pipe to the home."
Across town at Comcast
Colorado, engineers are looking for ways
to take full advantage of the company's fiber network, whether
by adding a caller ID feature to a TV screen or letting users
view the same video-on-demand content on multiple screens.
In Douglas County, executives at Dish Network are
preparing for a nationwide rollout of a mobile TV service that
allows users to take their Dish content anywhere, along with a
more powerful version of video-on-demand that sends movies over
a broadband connection to a set-top box.
And at nearby Liberty Media Corp., the holding company that owns
TV networks Starz and QVC and a large stake in DirecTV, planners
are looking ahead to a new digital-consumer environment that
will help shape future investments. They've already put
their stake in digital movies with the Vongo download service.
companies — among others — are playing a key role in shaping the
"connected home" of the future. From providing a central
broadband connection, to programming a DVR with a cellphone, or
downloading a movie to a portable device, the ultimate in
convergence is coming. In some cases it's already here.
The definition of a connected home varies and is colored by each
company's particular focus.
For now, it's not yet the futuristic smart home in which
voice-activated kitchen appliances alert you when the milk is
gone. Instead it's based on the interconnectedness of a
host of entertainment and productivity devices.
"From my point of view, it's where you have the best TV
experience possible, because we've provided you with all the
content, regardless of where it comes from," said Jessica
Insalaco, senior vice president and chief marketing office for
Dish Network Corp. "Also, we would have figured out a way
to release you from the confines of your home, so you don't have
to stay in one room or in the house."
But there may be demand for these features from only a small
segment of the population, said Bruce Leichtman, president and
principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group.
"Certainly there is a segment that wants the concept of
'anytime, anywhere,' but generally when we look at that segment
it's younger men," he said. "It's not about the connected
home per se, it's about utility. What's the benefit to
companies are eager to pursue the concept.
Qwest is in the midst of a transformation from being a
tried-and-true Baby Bell to a "distribution" company. It
wants to partner with other companies to offer ancillary
services — such as DirecTV — that can take advantage of the
Qwest broadband network. Still, Mueller wants all those
companies working in a way that doesn't confuse or frustrate the
"It's all about the customer experience," said Dan Yost, Qwest's
executive vice president of product. "We're really trying
to enable the customer experience. We're working with
providers of those types of services to make it easy to access
But that level of connectedness is not without stiff
competition. Qwest plans to spend $300 million this year
to upgrade its network. Comcast, the nation's largest
cable provider, with 800,000 Colorado subscribers, has begun rolling out
enhanced services that integrate its video, Internet and phone
offerings in several markets.
Features include caller ID information appearing on a user's TV,
the ability to start a video-on-demand program on one TV and
finish viewing it on another, and new download speeds of 50
megabits per second. Comcast last week launched its
extreme-high-speed service in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area,
where Qwest has a major presence.
"A truly connected home starts with the fully scalable, reliable
fiber network we have. Our competitors ... for the most
part ... are still dealing with (copper wire) to the
home," said Mark Hess, Comcast Corp.'s senior vice-president of
product and business development for products. "It's all
the ways products come together to be a singular service."
any effort to increase Internet speeds is an opportunity to add
and retain customers who are fond of their networks.
With advances in broadband capacity to homes, those who already
are plugged will get even more opportunities for interactivity
between services, such as e-commerce, TV-commerce or games, said
Bill Fitzgerald, senior vice president for business development
for Liberty Media. "There are a host of things still in
For Dish Network, last year's purchase of Sling Media by its
sister company Echo Star Corp. will allow it to integrate
Sling's place-shifting ability into TV set-top boxes.
Combined with an IP offering that lets users search for movies
and other content Dish has stored on its network, the nation's
second-largest satellite company plans to better compete with
"We have all these entertainment options and we help them watch
them anywhere in the home, and Sling allows you to take it out
of your house," Insalaco said. "I think for a lot of
people, the ability to place shift is very unique. In 18
months, we're going to see people with more mobile,
Leichtman contends that all of these efforts are a way to create
"stickiness" for the slice of consumers that are interested in
new digital services.
"None of this is about everybody," he said. "It's about
segments, about creating the glue to those segments (and
services) to keep people from ever thinking about leaving."
When Starz launched its Vongo movie-download service more than
two years ago, it was a way of beginning a conversation about
the concept of connecting a home using a single broadband
connection, said Bob Greene, executive vice president for
Starz's advanced services division.
Now, faster broadband speeds from companies such as Qwest and
Comcast make Vongo easier for consumers to use.
"They had to get in the game," Greene said of Qwest's latest
efforts. "That's a big change from two years ago. . . . Speed
alone has increased. That starts to allow the (Vongo)
platform to truly deliver content in a meaningful way."
Kimberly S. Johnson: 303-954-1088 or