Tuesday, January 17, 2017

CES 2017 Recap: From a Service Provider Perspective

Written by CSE,  Drew Kempen

The Relevance of CES

In order for any business to thrive and grow, it must be able to adapt and plan for changes in the market space. What is changing? When will it change? How will we make that change? What are the options? How much will it cost? Attempting to answer these questions requires a large dose of prognostication. CES is one of the best windows into the future that the service provider industry has. CES is effective because it focuses on the consumer; what they will be using and how they will be using it. This drives the migration of services that are important to consumers, thus driving network changes.

With a tagline of ‘WHOA’, CES 2017 seemed to come up short of anything mind-blowing this year. CES 2017 was essentially 2016 v1.1. We saw primarily the same technologies, slightly more refined. This is an encouraging trend for service providers. For a number of years, there has been much change and uncertainty about which directions both consumers and manufacturers would grow. We are now seeing a more stable and focused technology wave.

Last year, 4K and Virtual Reality (VR) were all the rage. This year, we had a few slight modifications to that. Almost every booth in 2016 had some version of 4k playing video in their booth, regardless of the products they were touting. This year, almost every booth had a VR experience. Also, rather than 4k being highlighted; it was HDR technology that took center stage.

All Things IP

Last year we saw an explosion of new connected devices and concepts. Very few ‘new’ ideas were demonstrated this year, however, there was a strong focus on refining these products. From Streaming boxes to VR to wearables; the focus was on better performance, better design, and more functionality. This stronger focus on technologies allow us to get a clearer picture of where services are going, thus defining which direction our network needs to grow.

4K, HDR and VR will continue to drive the next video transition. However, this transition also comes along with a migration of this video content to all IP. While video is alive and well, it is clear that traditional forms of video services are fading. Consumers are becoming more and more accustomed to on-demand, no/minimal commercial, and a seamless/mobile viewing experience. The crux of future video uncertainty currently rests with the content providers and networks. What will they do with broadcast, commercials, re-transmission rights, bundle requirements, and contract negotiations? With a-la-carte channels, skinny bundles, and quality original programming from OTT players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime; consumers continue to take back power from the networks. No one yet knows how or if they will adapt.

In the meantime, it is the OTT and direct to consumer streaming apps that are taking the lead with 4k, HDR and VR services. True 4K and HDR undoubtedly offer a mesmerizing large screen experience. Just as the theater experience continues to attract 10’s of millions of customers keeping the theater industry relevant, 4k and HDR can do that for the living room experience. As we see the OLED paper-thin televisions develop, it validates that the large screen experience is here for the long-haul.
OLED is Awesome

The thin OLED televisions were arguably the coolest piece of technology at the show. The current generation of LG W OLED TV’s are less than 4mm thick. The newest advancement which wasn’t shown at the show is less than 1mm thick, and can be rolled like a newspaper! It is not difficult to envision an entire wall of the living room becoming an OLED TV in the future essentially making your wall an IMAX theater. Looking even further out into the future, one could certainly see an entire room dedicated to 360 degree OLED essentially giving you a headset free VR experience.

VR Continues to Impress

VR once again took center stage at this show. The reason this is so interesting is that VR is truly in its infancy. In many ways, VR is currently a parlor trick. When you put on the headset, it quickly becomes immersive, fascinating and addictive. However, when you think about it in the real world, it still has a long way to go. The content is minimal, functionality is crude, and video quality is extremely poor. Yet it still is growing in use at a rapid pace. One can only imagine how more effective and desirable this service will be when it is refined and in a true HD format.

All this means one thing for service providers. The pipeline will always be growing and growing fast. Historically, a 50% CAGR for data usage has been seen. There is certainly no reason to think this will slow down and could very well me more than this for the next few years as these technology and service transitions mature.

While there are certainly challenges to service providers in continuing to grow the network, the growing requirements of large bandwidth streams and services presents a significant opportunity and welcome trend. It keeps their hardline service relevant and required to the home, potentially staving off the next generation of LTE capabilities as a peer competitor.
Virtual Traffic Jam

Finally, service providers must consider the implications of the combination of exploding wi-fi connected devices within the home, mobile streaming devices and TV’s, and the large stream rate requirements of 4k, HDR, and VR. This presents a huge wi-fi, network management, and security issue within the home. It also presents so a growing opportunity and market for new revenue-generating services of which the service provider is in an ideal situation to provide. A number of vendors were showcasing new wi-fi management platforms that provide visibility to the in-home network and devices. While these are almost all in their first software generation of functionality, the platforms provide the capabilities required to help service providers delve into these abilities today, while providing the scalability to increase capabilities and functionality with software upgrades.

Summary: Future-world

For those of us who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, by now we should be playing in holo-decks, visiting the moon, speaking some version of pseudo English-Chinese, and flying around rather than driving. In reality, the next-generation future world lies before us. Self-driving connected cars before flying, VR before holo-decks, and obviously google translate is the mechanism that will facilitate the English-Chinese language transition. Every device, application, and execution of what we do in life is becoming connected and part of the way we live. There are few things that slam this reality into mind than your child wondering why a hotel remote has so many buttons and doesn’t know why you can’t speak to the remote. It’s no wonder the generation of knob-turners didn’t make the transition to flying cars and the moon. Perhaps our current generation of ‘remote control talkers’ will take us there. 

Stay in touch with Drew on Twitter at @DrewKempen

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