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Cisco's Vision for the Connected Home

Chief development officer, Charlie Giancarlo, discusses how networking technology is changing digital communications and entertainment for consumers

January 09, 2007

Thanks to advances in digital technology, individuals have more communications and entertainment options than ever. That's now both a blessing and a curse. While the choice is great, the explosion of digital devices and multimedia content is causing more than a few technological headaches. Cell phones, PDAs, iPods, video recorders, TV set-top boxes, gaming consoles, Web cameras and the myriad of other devices surging into the market don't necessarily play well together, and that's a problem. People want more freedom and ease in where, how, and when they use and enjoy all these new communications and entertainment options.

Cisco Systems Inc., a leader in bringing data, voice and video communications to the Internet, now wants to help in the home. By harnessing its experience in creating the world's most advanced intelligent networking technologies, Cisco aims to make the digital lifestyle a little easier. News@Cisco spoke with Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco's chief development officer, about the company's plans to use its networking expertise to address the digital age challenges of building the "connected home."

How does Cisco define its concept of the "connected home?"

Charlie Giancarlo: The connected home is our vision for how individuals can easily use and enjoy their various digital content, entertainment, and communications resources. Integration is the key word here. People now have an increasing number of digital communications and entertainment options, but few of these work well together. This is typical of "first wave" innovations, where capabilities such as open interfaces and interoperability are traded off, creating "islands" of content on proprietary devices and forcing undesirable compromises. The classic example is the lack of integration between TVs and PCs. Right now, content from a PC cannot easily be viewed on a TV, and people who want to watch streaming video are fettered to their computers.

The connected home is Cisco's approach to addressing this problem. By creating a set of common services using intelligent networking technologies, Cisco will help digital devices more easily and effectively interact with one another while also helping these devices more closely integrate with various content services from telecommunications providers. This is very similar to what happened with the Internet. By establishing a common communications platform, all kinds of data, voice and video tools can now run together over the same infrastructure. Obviously, some of the specifics are different for the home, but just as we pioneered Internet protocol (IP) technology standards to help create a single global communications system, Cisco believes it can now provide similar support for the home environment.

What is driving the development of the connected home?

Charlie Giancarlo: The expansion of broadband Internet connections and the proliferation of digital multimedia content are creating a major shift in how people communicate and enjoy their entertainment options. New capabilities are enabling people to move away from being passive recipients and moving them towards being active participants. People clearly want more personalized choice and control, a phenomenon often referred to in the industry as the "empowered" consumer. But even faster broadband connections, while certainly crucial, are not enough to complete this shift. To coordinate the exchange of content and communications among all the different devices and communications services, there needs to be new advanced technology behind the scenes. This is where the network can play a key role. As the common foundation connecting all the devices in the home as well as running major IP-based telecommunications systems, intelligent networking technologies can greatly facilitate coordination of the disparate options for communications and entertainment.

By developing networking intelligence for the home, Cisco believes it will open the door to new and better communications and content options. By harnessing our technologies and being able to integrate them with connected home networks, telecommunications providers, including traditional phone services, cellular operators, and cable companies, will be able to offer an array of innovative new services that free the individual from any one particular device.

What advantages does Cisco have in addressing the various challenges of developing the connected home and simplifying the digital lifestyle?

Charlie Giancarlo: Over the last couple of years Cisco has very consciously put the pieces in place to address the key aspects of the connected home. We started with our historic strength in IP-based networks. This translates to a crucial understanding of the large networks run by telecommunications service providers. These are the networks that must deliver the traffic and services to the home. But that, we realized, was just a start. To address issues of running a connected home, we purchased Linksys, now the leading maker of residential networking equipment, such as wireless routers, Web cameras, and Internet phones. Then, last year, we purchased Scientific Atlanta, the leading provider of video networking equipment and set-top boxes. This gave us two key technological footholds for building the connected home. First, it brought video expertise to Cisco. Secondly, it provided a way to integrate video TV services into the home network run by Linksys gear. Whether digital content comes into the home via an Internet connection at the PC or through a set-top box on the TV, we can help people use that content where and how they want. There's no doubt that the consumer digital marketplace is chaotic, but with the combination of Cisco's IP expertise for telecommunications networks coupled with Linksys' home networking acumen and Scientific Atlanta's video leadership, we have the resources necessary to build the connected home.

What role will partnerships play in Cisco's development of the connected home?

Charlie Giancarlo: The challenges of the connected home and the digital lifestyle are far too complex for any one company to solve. We certainly believe the network is a crucial component of the solution, but as demonstrated by the development of the Internet, industry cooperation and open standards are vital to success. Partnerships have long been a cornerstone to Cisco's business strategy and will play a major role in our development of the connected home. We plan to partner with companies involved in all facets of this issue, starting with telecommunications service providers but also involving everyone from content producers to device manufacturers. The development of the connected home simply won't work without this kind of cooperation. Consumers expect the industry to address the integration problems so they can simply use these new technologies without having to be a software programmer or an electrical engineer. We want to help make all these wonderful new digital communications and entertainment options as easy to use and as satisfying as possible. That's our goal.

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