HI-TRAC: The author's shorthand for Happiness Index, Infrastructure, Talent, Regulations, Access and Capital. The six pillars that make the UAE a great place for a startup. This week's article is about why global talent finds the startup infrastructure in the UAE attractive.
A suggestion to service providers in mobile telephony - consider the fact that the best tech is never intrusive. It blends in with the way we work, play, sleep, learn, heal and entertain ourselves. Tech is meant to enhance and augment our lives. To understand how unobtrusive good technology is, think about when you last hailed a taxi on a road? Or bought a camera? A July 15, 2015 Forbes article - Why Millenials Are Texting More and Talking Less - describes how JP Morgan saved $31 million when over 65 per cent of staff voluntarily gave up voicemail on their phones.
Each of these technologies faded away quietly. Like SMS. Or your set-top box. That's right. Netflix, Amazon Video and Smart TVs have made the once ubiquitous little device redundant. Hotel rooms and homes with these boxes seem anachronistic and unsophisticated. Without even thinking about it, decades of "channel flicking" behaviour has disappeared. We progressed from rotary analogue channel switches in the 70s to push-button digital switches and then remote controllers for TVs and set-top boxes. But we were always frustrated by the lack of control. Streaming audio and now video has changed all of that. Technology has helped us vote out content which is driven by advertising. This content has been hitherto piped to our homes via a "gateway". Instead, freedom of choice has been more viably achieved via data connectivity and a user-pay model.
That vote for freedom is also making a massive difference in how the Internet of Things (IoT) will be consumed.
A very relevant and potentially lucrative application for IoT is the smart home market. According to the Smart Homes Market - Growth, Analysis, Forecast to 2022 by Mordor Intelligence, this market is currently valued at approximately $52 billion and is likely to grow to an estimated $120 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 14.26 per cent.
The McKinsey report There's No Place Like (A Connected) Home indicated that the 2017 versus 2016 growth rate in connected homes is in the region of 17 per cent. The expectation is that 29 million households in the US alone will become connected homes by the end of this year.
According to the report, the major verticals in smart homes are home intelligence, access control, entertainment, home comfort, connectivity, wellness, home safety, daily tasks and energy efficiency. The challenge is that these verticals are delivered by separate services which are each locked into their own "controller" ecosystem. For example, the home safety system is usually different from the home comfort system and each has its own equivalent of a gateway controller, similar to a set-top box.
Roshan D'Souza, CEO of Xperio Labs (www.xperiolabs.com), a Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Centre-based company, thinks differently about this. He strongly believes that service providers like telcos and cable TV networks have the ability to converge all of these various verticals via the easy-to-use SPRNGPOD application. These service providers control the most important access to each household - the data link. Rather than have multiple IoT entities do an "over-the-top" play via the data-pipe, D'Souza has built technology that allows these service providers deliver a range of converged services without the need for multiple physical gateways. Instead, the SPRNGPOD app developed by Xperio for mobile devices allows consumers to access all of the service verticals conveniently and intuitively.
D'Souza quips: "An 85-year old grandmother should have no problems managing a smart home. That's my objective."
He describes how the app will enable service providers to stream localised content instead of only facilitating apps such as Netflix and Apple Music, provide security and access services, monitor activities at home and enable you to turn on the air-conditioning while on your way back from office. Or receive a message as soon as you cross your doorstep asking if you'd like to go to the big screen to continue the show you had started watching on your mobile phone at lunchtime. Plus a host of mind-boggling but truly useful services that can only make life simpler in a VUCA world.
He describes it as the democratisation of IoT made possible by telcos and cable TV service providers. He has created a "symphony out of hitherto siloed services". He is offering the service at an enterprise level via two models. Either a licensed instance for the service provider or a per end-user subscription based model. So far, he has two key customers in South Asia - One is Asianet and the other soon-to-be-announced one is a publicly listed company which serves over seven million homes. He is very keen on expanding the SPRNGPOD platform to the UAE.
D'Souza is no stranger to innovation. He built a coin-operated pay phone when he was in his 20s. He's worked in the corporate world with Philips, Arris, Scientific Atlanta and Cisco, managing and delivering large scale projects. More recently, Xperio achieved commercial success with WiFi routers that ran on a cable TV network. To support his ecosystem, he's building hardware devices such as CCTV cameras that can instantly connect to the smarthome system. Better still, he's sharing a set of open APIs with manufacturers such as Belkin. D-Link and TP-Link that allow them to make their devices SPRNGPOD-compatible. Like "Intel-inside".
This is a rapidly developing market and it would be interesting to follow initiatives like Xperio Labs' SPRNGPOD.