UPnP is a great technology for enabling devices from different providers and manufactures to work together and enables video, audio and pictures sharing and control between devices. The UPnP Forums is an industry alliance of companies that defines and publishes the UPnP device protocol and I got chance to ask Alan Messer the UPnP Forum Vice President questions about the connected home and UPnP:
Ian Dixon: A Connected Home has massive potential, what challenges does it face?
Alan Messer: The connected home has the potential to dramatically change many aspects of daily life as next-generation services continue to proliferate and domestic home networking evolves. However, with many new networked consumer electronic devices operating on diverse networks there is a high risk of consumer confusion. The connected home needs to be developed as a fully integrated platform, with the whole industry working together, for people to continue to access digital content and enjoy new digital services.
Why is it important devices on the home network to inter-connect with each other?
At the center of the connected home lies the home network which enables interoperability of services and devices. However, consumers currently face a number of different technologies which makes the design and configuration of a home network beyond the scope of most people – many consumers don’t even realise the true potential of their devices. Today’s connected world demands reliable and secure solutions that are easy to use and control with multi‐vendor flexibility, while providing a balance between comfort, convenience, and cost. Consumers expect a clear proposition of what a device is, how it will benefit them, how it will fit into their lifestyles and how they will use it. They don’t want to be limited to buying all connected devices of the same brand, nor are they willing to live with technology islands that cannot communicate with each other.
How can UPnP enhance our digital home?
Devices in home networks that are based on UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) technology provide easy access to each other and to sources of content. UPnP technologies already provide the foundation in the home to complement a variety of management gateways and device control scenarios, incorporating well-vetted mechanisms for security, discovery and service advertisement. UPnP enables digital products from multiple brands to interoperate and share digital content, making it easier for consumers to connect and enjoy their music, video and photos. That being said, UPnP is not a single solution, but rather as an enabler, empowering AV (Audio Visual) devices, or any other IP-based device to communicate with anything on the IP network. Within the home, UPnP acts as the enabling machine to machine (M2M) language between set-top boxes and the gateway, communicating with retail devices such as TVs, tablets and mobile phones, to ensure the successful delivery of premium entertainment content.
How does UPnP raise the standard for the Connected Home?
UPnP Forum provides a standard to enable UPnP-certified products to be compatible with each other in a home network environment, even if manufactured by different companies. UPnP-certified devices on existing home networks provide a perfect platform for interoperable communication and can easily bridge networks, allowing utilities and service providers to communicate via a private IP backbone with their customers. The UPnP® Certification program is beneficial to all technology companies, from chipset vendors and CE (Consumer Electronics) manufacturers, to application providers and service operators. CE manufacturers and application providers benefit from UPnP Certification as consumers increasingly look to purchase devices and software with the UPnP® Certification Mark and Logo. The UPnP Device Control Protocol (DCP) standards provide a suite of protocols for home network devices to automatically discover one another, retrieve operational parameters, conﬁgure themselves and host a service that other control points can use. This means that applications, such as Skype, have the ability to open ports in the residential gateway to allow the successful delivery of high quality video and content between homes.
How has UPnP technology standardized the way devices in a network interact and in what areas can this be improved?
In many ways, for example, via UPnP, a display can find a media server, present a movie overview and play back a selected movie. This is essential, but there is still more to be done. With the proliferation of next-generation services, some users are left flipping between a multitude of isolated applications or frustrated at the lack of support. Consumers expect a level of service that includes reliable delivery of premium content. The lack of certified standards makes it difficult, if not impossible, for manufacturers and service providers to innovate around the user experience and provide seamless services. Plug and play means exactly that: if a device does not play, then the consumer will unplug.
What role do Service Providers play?
The connected home has become somewhat of a battleground for device manufacturers, network suppliers and service providers, all wanting a piece of the market. However it is crucial that they work together to create an interoperable ecosystem to ensure device-to-device communication and simplified network implementation. For service providers, the connected home platform provides the opportunity to offer new services in the digital home. The growing demand to view content on multiple devices, as well as growth in home-produced media, presents competitive challenges and as well as growth opportunities. By exploiting their existing strengths, such as an established presence in the home, a trusted billing relationship, and customer support functions, service providers are looking to UPnP Certification as a way to ensure that their customers can maximise the accessibility and portability of their services throughout the home.
And what about manufacturers?
CE manufacturers are focusing on consumer needs and expectations and are leading the way in UPnP Certification adoption. Most manufacturers understand that in this heterogeneous and increasingly densely connected environment, UPnP Certification and compliance gives users and retailers confidence in the interoperability capabilities of their products. Most major vendors have already invested in UPnP technologies as a core component of their products, taking advantage of UPnP Forum resources including development tools, ecosystem, testing, and certification. Vendors like the fact that processes for interoperability testing and certification are well‐established, and that UPnP protocols provide a neutral platform for facilitating interoperability. Such a platform enables applications such as energy management, energy data communication, and device discovery to operate across different networks of home devices. These features ease the transition of existing or proprietary energy networks to the newer IP‐based SmartGrid networks of the future. Expanding on UPnP technologies’ bridging capabilities to other ecosystems, recent extensions to the Power System series of Device Control Protocols (a rich set of power systems interfaces) are now also available for vendors and manufacturers.
What is the future for UPnP
Consumers have more options available than ever to interconnect and enjoy digital content throughout the home without boundaries. This is something that will continue as more products become fully connected. Standards level the playing field. However, the industry as a whole needs to work together to ensure reliable interoperability and enhance the consumer experience as never before. Consumers expect a set of standards to be in place. They also want information to help guide them through the buying process. This will encourage the industry to view the connected home as a single market entity.
UPnP Forum continues to pave the way for UPnP devices and services within the connected home, driving the technologies and standards for device interoperability and simplified implementation. Through its specifications and certification program, UPnP Forum is bringing the various players together to achieve cross-industry co-operation to facilitate advances in the connected digital home. Recently, the Forum has expanded its efforts with the creation of its UPnP+ initiative. UPnP+ is aimed at delivering new technical capabilities to enhance networked functionality and meet the increasing need for always-on services. For more information on these UPnP+ efforts, watch this video.
More information at upnp.org