Consumer technology trends in 2006
and the implications for your business
The emerging technologies field is very broad and it is easy to
become fascinated by cutting-edge technology that may never gain
mass market acceptance. This article looks at four emergent technology
trends that already have some popularity with consumers internationally,
reviews their acceptance in Australia and considers the potential
implications for your business. These are cell phones that do everything,
internet phone calls for everyone, the digital home and an internet
that is mobile, more connected and personalised.
Trend 1 - Cell phones that do everything
Heralded as the fastest growing tech sector, cell phones have developed
from voice-centric to feature-centric (especially sms) followed
by smart phones which can access emails and websites. More recently,
there has been a drive towards multimedia phones (videos, music,
photos) and we now see the merging of smart and multimedia phones.
So instead of a separate PDA, mp3 player, camera and phone there
is a trend to one multifunction type device.
For example, showcased at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in
Las Vegas was the “multimedia masterpiece” MM-A940 by
Samsung. It brings a 2 Mega pixel digital camera and camcorder with
a 2x optical zoom, a full-motion streaming TV and MP3 player with
almost broadband speed data access. In addition it responds to voice
commands and can do speech-to-text dictation (for those who hate
small keypads). It even has a small built-in speaker, all in a 1-inch
thick packet. 1
In the November 2005 report “Telecommunication Services Availability
in Australia 2004-2005” the ACMA reports that mobile phone
service per head of population is 90% (18.42 million mobile services
in operation at the end of June 2005.)
Data rich services in Australia is in its infancy and given that
growth in subscriber numbers are plateauing, value-added services
are potentially being seen as a significant revenue stream. This
is driving the 3G network rollout by Telstra, Optus, Hutchinson
and Vodaphone as well as higher bandwidth on existing networks (GSM
and CDMA). Each of these providers offers different content.
Implications for your business
According to telecommunications analyst Paul Budd, business in
Australia is still not taking 3G applications seriously apart from
upgrading their mobile phone fleets to the 3G platform.
Companies need to look further than just 3G applications and consider
opportunities that technologies like podcasting may offer (see trend
Trend 2 - Internet phone calls for everyone – Voice over
internet protocol (VOIP)
Transmitting data, voice, and video over a converged network is
already well embraced by business; this year seems to be the year
that consumers embrace internet phone calls. For call clarity, VOIP
is best used over broadband technology. In September 2005, IDC estimated
the Australian broadband penetration of households to be approximately
30% rising to 50% by year-end 20083.
While it is difficult to get accurate data the most well known
VOIP, Skype Technologies which launched in July 2004 claims it had
40 million active users by September 20054.
Engin and MyNetFone are the main Australian providers for equipment
and services for VOIP calls over broadband cable for consumers.
A comparative list Australian providers is available at www.ozinternetphones.com.
IDC predicts that 2006 will be the trial year for wireless VOIP
given the mass market availability of phones that can access both
the new wireless networks (WiFi) and existing global system for
mobiles (GSM)5. At the February 2006 3GSM World Congress 2006, Nokia
launched its 6136 mobile, a mobile that switches seamlessly between
GSM and WiFi networks. This effectively let users make free calls
without using their network provider by letting them swap between
their mobile operator and voice over the internet as they talk.
Implications for your business
Both in Australia and internationally, technology standards are
some way off where a customer’s VOIP software can seamlessly
integrate with a corporate VOIP thus removing any need for using
landlines or mobile networks. An eventual shakeout of the market
will see fewer VOIP providers and a standard interface develop.
Well architected IP networks are enabling contact centers to become
an effective “face” of the business allowing customers
to choose the communication channel of their choice as well enabling
blended collaboration (e.g. use of voice, chat and web in one communication
Another growing opportunity for business is the use of VOIP to
allow contact center agents to work from home for at least part
of the time. Termed homeshoring, this removes the backlash against
offshore outsourcing and takes advantage of agents familiar with
local culture and the English language7.
Trend 3 - The digital home
The digital home is now a reality for the average home owner in
Australia. The devices that consumers initially purchase as they
migrate to the digital home are a widescreen television, a set top
box or home media center and a game box. Major players like Intel,
however, have a goal for digital homes of enabling the access of
compelling content at anytime, anywhere and on many devices9.
A record number of 600,000 widescreen television screens were sold
in Australia in 2005. This compares to 440,000 in 2004. It is this
growth in sales that is driving demand for HD (high definition)
set top boxes (unless your widescreen has an integrated digital
capability a set top box is required).
In the US, Media Center PC’s sales have skyrocketed since
July 2005; however distributors and retailers have reported a decline
in Australian sales. They attribute this mainly to the lack of marketing
by Microsoft and consumer education. Media Center PC’s are
also more expensive here, the average price in Australia is $2500
compared to $1200 in the US. The hype around the Foxtel IQ has also
depressed sales. (Source: Smarthouse News Sept 2005)
High Definition (HD) content is still an issue both in Australia
and overseas but growing.
Free to air digital broadcasting commenced in Australia in April
2001. Digital broadcasting is a far more efficient and flexible
transmission system than the current analog system. For the viewer
the key benefits are sharper pictures (including some programs in
high definition), clearer sound (including some programs with Dolby
Digital), widescreen programs and extra channels. An analog TV can
receive digital signals by adding a set top box however there are
limitations because digital widescreen is rapidly developing as
a global standard for television programs. In a February 2006 the
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Information
Technology and the Arts recommended switching off analogue television
broadcasting nationwide on 1 January 2010.
The current home penetration of digital TV receivers, to December
2005 is close to 1.2 million or around 15.5% of Australia's 7.6
IPTV is already widely available in the United States, United Kingdom
Europe. IPTV gained media attention when shows like Desperate Housewives
and CSI were delivered over the internet to customers for a small
fee. Foxtel which is 50% owned by Telstra is tipped to launch IPTV
in Australia next year11.
Video on Demand (VOD) is available in Australia, in some cases
to a limited market but is growing as video distributors like Video
Ezy aim to have VOD services by the end of 2006.
Implications for your business
The digitisation and multiplication of information delivery methods
will provide businesses with a variety of ways to reach consumers.
Currently it is the entertainment and gaming industry that are at
the forefront of delivering content to homes digitally, however
it won’t be long before other industries use these mediums
to market and service their products. For example, the much hyped
Interactive TV of years ago is finally taking shape with companies
like SKY launching their WTVML-based
interactive TV portal12.
Genevieve Bell, director of user experience at Intel, in her studies
of user groups around the world notes that people want products
and services in the their homes that are tailored to local practices
and experiences. Companies should focus on value and simplicity9.
Trend 4 – an internet that is mobile, more connected and personalised
Internet use is no longer restricted to the desktop computer but
fragmented over many media-rich networked devices, gadgets and systems.
In the past, companies wishing to disseminate information about
their services and products were typically restricted to a hierarchical
structure of web pages written in HTML and XHTML. Today a wider
range of information delivery and interaction is available including:
- Blogs, short for weblog, is a web-based publication consisting
primarily of periodic articles or commentary normally displayed
in reverse chronological order, i.e., latest displayed first.
Moblogs are content (photos, text, videos) that has been posted
to the internet via a mobile phone. Examples of sophisticated
company blogs can be found at: Ford
Motor Company blog, Fortune
500 companies .
- A vlog or video blog is a blog which has video as its primary
is a popular example of citizen journalism that has 130,000 daily
viewers and is now being distributed commercially in the US.
- Podcasting is a method of publishing audio files to the Internet
that users can subscribe to as a feed. They receive new files
automatically by subscription which can then be listened to at
the user’s leisure on their PC or hand-held device. Examples
of corporate podcasts are Purina,
- RSS is an acronym for Really Simple Syndication and is a way
of publishing content through an XML feed which is then viewed
by users using special software called "aggregators".
Now so widely used as a standard for disseminating information
that Internet Explorer (Ver. 7) will have it built in.
- Vodcasts is and emerging term used for the online delivery of
video on demand content by attaching multimedia content to RSS
- Chat sites and web discussion forums allow users, usually registered,
to post messages and comment on other peoples messages using a
table based format.
- Wiki’s are websites that can be interactively edited and
added to by website viewers, usually without registering first,
enabling a collaborative approach to content creation. The most
welknown and popular wiki is Wikipedia
and online encyclopedia that can be edited by all.
These technologies are creating sophisticated online users that
require their information delivered in the format and on the device
of their choice. In addition they are no longer content to be passive
consumers of information but actively want to be creators, contributors
and producers of information.
Implications for your business
Savvy companies can use online chat and web discussion forums to
supplement their customer service and consider other delivery mediums
like podcasting and blogging to create loyal consumer communities
around their products and services. For example customers may be
far happier to listen to a podcast describing the merits of your
product at their leisure than read a lengthy text document on the
web. These technologies are inexpensive to procure and implement.
Companies who are hesitant to use these technologies with their
customers can trial there effectiveness with own staff. For example,
the proliferation of email communications have resulted in important
company communications being lost in the clutter, push technologies
such as RSS feeds can be used as a more effective way to ensure
important company communications are received. A wiki could be used
to build content for the corporate intranet, e.g., developing procedures
for claims handling collaboratively involving the people who actually
do the work?
Consumers are now able to access compelling content anytime, anywhere
and on many devices. Demand up to now has been supply driven (e.g.
special Bigpond offers) in Australia, however the increasing availability
of affordable broadband both in the home and on personal devices
will see customers becoming more demanding of how and where information
is presented. The ease with which customers can now publish and
contribute information means that they will no longer be content
to be talked at but will seek out companies who use the technology
to collaboratively service their needs.
1Source: informit.com Jan 2006
2cnet.com.au, UMTS forum -10 Feb 2006, Australian IT
14 Feb 2006
3Australia Broadband Market 2004-2009 Forecast: Naked
DSL to Become Lethal to PSTN, IDC Sept 2005
5Australia Wireless VoIP – On Trial in 2006"
6Horizontal Integration White Paper - Cisco
7Number of at-home agents to skyrocket - 09 Jan 2006
8Fed Gov To Fund Free Digital TV? – 18 Nov 2005
9Intel Software Insight – The Intel vision for
the digital home March 2006
10Digital Television – Who’s Buying It? report
Digital Broadcasting Australia Feb 2006
11IPTV Now Up To Integrators – May 2006 - smarthousenews.com.au
12Sky Launches New Interactive TV Portal, Sky Net –
April 2006 – itvt Bloggit
For further information on the ideas outlined in this article please
contact us for an obligation free discussion.
Donna Vaughan and Desne Doman are the authors of the e-book:-
Mercenaries - Manage your consultants or... they will manage you"
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technology trends in 2006 and the implications for your business
|What is 1G, 2G etc?
1G was the analogue mobile network, 2G was digital, and 3G is
based on broadband technology that has the required bandwidth
for downloading information-rich content. Although no one knows
what 4G will be, 3.5G or High-Speed Downlink Packet Access technology
(HSDPA) is about 10 times the speed of 3G and is already being
demonstrated overseas. Telstra is currently investing more than
$1billion in HSDPA.
World wide there are 50 million 3G subscribers which is small
in an overall market of 2 billion mobile users. Analysts from,
ABI Research predict that by 2010, 3G will have 30% of total
user market. Although Australian carriers will not reveal their
3G carrier numbers, telecoms industry researcher, Telsyte estimates
there were about 800,000 3G subscribers in Australia, or about
5 per cent of the mobile user base2.
|What is VOIP?
VOIP is basically a way to take the analogue signals from your
phone and converting it to digital data that can be sent over
Basically there are 3 ways consumers can use it:
1. Computer to computer – this has been around for ages
and requires both parties on either end to be using the same
VOIP software as well as microphones and speakers. Calls are
2. Computer to phone – software is again installed on
the computer side called a soft phone and then a provider like
Skype or Engin passes on the landline or mobile access fee onto
the call initiator.
3. Phone to phone – your phone is plugged into a digital
phone adaptor which plugs into your broadband cable (termed
interconnected VOIP) which in turn converts the analogue voice
signal to digital data. Again the providers charge for the equipment
and a small fee for accessing the landlines or mobiles at the
|What is a Home Media Center, set top box?
Home media centers are either standalone boxes or souped up
PC’s that act as fully fledged entertainment hubs that
control everything from watching and recording live television,
playing and recording digital music, to viewing and manipulating
video, DVDs and pictures – using a remote control. Home
media centres are not to be confused with the much hyped Foxtel
IQ which is a timeshifting personal digital recorder, in which
subscribers are able to record programs onto a hard drive inside
the set-top box for later viewing.
Two key features of home media centers that will drive consumer
buying is that it collapses several pieces of equipment into
one neat box and its user interface is simpler to use. It uses
wireless technology and enables customised entertainment available
all over the house
Set top boxes convert an external signal from an ethernet cable,
satellite dish, telephone line etc into an image that is displayed
on a TV screen. A digital set top box is required for digital
TV hence the recent canvassing of the Australian government
to distribute set top boxes to all Australians in an effort
to speed up the uptake of digital TV8.
|What is IPTV and VOD?
IPTV is the delivery of digital television over Internet Protocol.
A broadband operator may offer what is called a triple play
- IPTV, Video on Demand, Internet Services and VOIP, all using
the same infrastructure. It promises less cost to suppliers
and customers as it uses the internet to deliver services The
industry distinguishes between true VOD and near VOD (NVOD).
NVOD is where multiple copies of a programme are broadcast at
short time intervals (typically 10–20 minutes). Austar,
Optus and Foxtel services are NVOD. True VOD is streamed or
downloaded at the time the user requests it. TransACT in Canberra,
Adam’s Internet, Telstra Bigpond and SkyNetGlobal are