Home Media Networks Turn Users Into Content Providers
By Eric Lin, Thu Nov 04 23:15:00 GMT 2004

Home media servers allow users to stream their movies and music from a computer to any compatible device in their home. They'll expect to stream it to compatible mobile devices as well.

Home networking is on the rise, and Jupiter Research has published a new study predicting that to support this technology wireless local networks will have to become much faster. Networks will need to shoot up to at least 57 Mbps in the next five years to accommodate new wireless scenarios. Although 802.11g has a theoretical maximum speed of 54 Mbps, it tends to average about half of that, and that is still over twice as fast as 802.11b, the original Wi-Fi. Home media networks, which transmit TV shows and music as well as Internet connectivity will require far more speed and bandwidth than Wi-Fi can provide. New standards like 802.11n and Ultra Wide Band (UWB) could provide the speed users need inside their homes, if the parties involved manage to agree on standards and bring compatible components to market.

Jupiter's report suggests that home media servers, like Microsoft's Media Center PC or Apple's "digital hub" concept will quadruple over the next five years. Each of these computers are capable of transmitting video and audio to components around the house, and are often used to stream or download content from the Internet as well. Therefore, it is not just the bandwidth inside the home which must increase, but the bandwidth from the home to the network as well. Download speed is usually what ISPs and their content partners focus on, both in terms of technology as well as advertising. However home media servers create an situation where upload speed could be just as critical.

Most corporate parties involved no doubt link upload speed, especially in the context of multimedia content, to those who are illegally sharing files. However a new situation could arise. If wireless home networks increase in popularity as this report suggests, and home users become accustomed to streaming their own movies and music to different devices around their home over wireless connections, what is to stop them from extending the metaphor? It is likely they would want to stream the same content to their mobile devices over a wireless connection as well. Of course it would be a different type of wireless connection, however that it is unlikely to enter the equation for mass-market consumers. Each person with a home media server, and therefore a large library of TV shows, movies and music potentially available over an Internet connection, can -- and will expect to -- become his own mobile content provider.

A few home media server solutions already allow users to transfer transcoded (re-formatted and compressed even further) files to their mobile devices over a USB connection so that they can watch their TV shows or listen to music on the go. A Japanese company has also released a desktop application that will create a movie file from a DVD for viewing on a Series 60 or UIQ smartphone. Many handsets already have integrated mp3 players, and devices that support content from popular online stores like iTunes, Audible and Napster are also emerging. The ability for a user to access his own content on a mobile device reinforces its personal nature. Users are willing to go through the trouble to put that content there manually for now, just as most users still have to manually transfer content from one device to another in their homes. It would be a natural progression that as users stream content within their homes they will look to stream that same content on the go as well.