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Unlimited possibilities for connectivity

The first wave of the Web connected people within businesses and academic communities, via e-mail.

The second wave saw the slow expansion of its reach as businesses, institutions and ordinary people began interacting with each other through e-mail and Web browser tools as multiple Internet-based business models and communities evolved.

Now, however, we find ourselves beginning to ride the third wave of connectivity – one in which everyday objects become connected, and technology intertwines with our increasingly-connected lives.

The introduction of IPv6 brings with it virtually unlimited possibilities for connectivity. With enough IP addresses to allow for every atom to have at least 100 each, it is not inconceivable for every light bulb, household appliance and car to come fitted with a standard Internet connection. It is also not quite so inconceivable for these objects and appliances to be able to communicate with each other autonomously.

While for some, the thought of a toaster with an Internet connection might seem as far off as flying cars and house robots, we are already seeing the first of the connected devices of the third wave of the Web finding their way into our homes.

A key emergent theme from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, was the so-called “smart TV” – of which just about every manufacturer had its own iteration.

Norwegian-based Opera Software has been developing its own smart TV platform, and the company says it predicts the way the Internet is accessed on televisions will be quite different to its current use: “In much the same way that consumers bucked expectations that their mobile Web behaviour would mimic their desktop behaviour.”


Opera’s VP of products for TV and connected devices, Frode Hernes, says while people predominantly use computers for research and work, when it comes to TV, entertainment is much more important. “The browser can intelligently pick up programme information and present to viewers trending topics, tweets and comments in that exact context,” says Hernes, adding that the rise of social TV and the close link between social media and TV shows is pivotal and will change the way people engage with their televisions.

“Quite often, we switch on our TVs and we don’t know what to watch. Social networks can solve this, by presenting to us what the most popular shows are, based on input from sources we have already decided we agree with,” says Hernes.

While this is all good and well for those countries in which flat-screen plasma TVs are found in almost every room in every home, Opera predicts that Internet on TV could be key in African markets, too.

According to statistics from PricewaterhouseCoopers, it is predicted that, by 2015, television penetration will reach 50% (or 123 million households) in Africa. In comparison, desktop computer penetration on the continent is at an estimated 5%, as mobile continues to dominate as the preferred means of Web access. Opera says since 2010, 30% of all televisions shipped globally have been Web-enabled, and this percentage is expected to accelerate drastically in 2012.

However, MD of says smart devices are either still too expensive, or the smart elements are still too complex or clunky for them to go fully mainstream.


“Both Samsung and LG will be launching their smart TVs in SA shortly, and all eyes will be on these products from a pricing point of view,” says Goldstuck. “Only when the pricing is right will all eyes turn to the apps and extras. The problem with Internet on TV, however, is also the fundamental one of Internet browsing, and especially social networking, being a private activity, while TV viewing is a family or group activity.”

According to Goldstuck, it is the TV set manufacturers, and especially those with app-rich ecosystems, that will have the advantage in the smart TV and appliance space. “In the long run, TV sets will become more customisable, and the playing fields will level. In the meantime, the software companies have to play nice with the set manufacturers in order to share some of that screen space.”

Goldstuck says the challenge for translating the Web to appliances such as smart TVs is more social than technical due to the group nature of TV viewing.

“TV viewing across Africa is not only a social activity, it is a communal activity. Internet use on the TV runs counter to this sensibility. And those that can afford a smart TV would also be able to afford a more appropriate device for accessing the Internet.

“The real shift could happen with digital migration, if the set-top boxes for decoding digital signals onto analogue sets also have a feedback loop. That will allow for mass access to basic Internet functions,” says Goldstuck.

“On the technical side, though, the TVs will, at this stage, only support apps that are created for their ecosystems. On a computer screen, on the other hand, you can run any number of diverse applications in tandem with your viewing. If the TV wants to pretend to be a computer, it will have to borrow computer-like characteristics like a hard drive and customisable interface.”

Goldstuck says the TV set design is evolving fast, and the latest products from the likes of Samsung suggest a near future where largescreen TVs are so thin and light that they will be portable devices that can be positioned anywhere.

“The TV will also be the device on which you share media, ranging from photos and videos to music and
presentations, produced on devices ranging from phones to handheld gaming consoles, and beamed directly to the TV.”


Looking beyond smart TVs, however, ’s chief futurologist and technologist, , says as the Internet doubles in size every 3.5 years, in the next 10 years there will be more than seven connected devices per person. Evans says as connected devices proliferate, they are also decreasing in size and becoming able to communicate among themselves as wireless coverage becomes more pervasive.

“IPv6 signals the beginning of connectivity without meaningful limits,” says Evans. “By 2020, one-third of all data will exist in the cloud,” says Evans, adding that global cloud services will jump 20% per year. “With the cloud comes the ability to mine human knowledge and to put an intelligent front on it.

“Humans advance only because of our ability to communicate. And it has become possible to communicate with anyone on the planet in rich ways, in real-time,” says Evans. “We are already seeing the social networking revolution, where people are using those tools to provide transparency and global awareness instantly. In 10 years, anyone will be able to broadcast anywhere on any device, providing unprecedented transparency.”

Evans says the next wave of connectivity could also be harnessed to streamline energy-efficiency as anything with an on-off switch could be connected to the smart networks of the future, allowing for the remote monitoring and regulating of energy usage.


“Traditionally, humans have always had to adapt to technology and learn new interfaces and paradigms. But now technology is adapting to us,” says Evans. Examples include gesture-based computing, interactive TV, facial recognition, and always-on technologies that will soon be able to be incorporated into glasses and contact lenses – all of which will be connected to the cloud and our social graphs for personalised content streaming. Google is reportedly going to release the first iteration of its “Google Glasses” to the public before year-end. These heads-up display glasses will feature their own 3G/4G connections, GPS and motion sensors, allowing them to tap into a range of Google services. A tiny front-facing camera will also help facilitate augmented reality features.

Venturing further into the future, Evans predicts that it will be possible to make a conscious computer with super-human intelligence before 2020. “From a networking perspective, these will be loosely nothing more than sensor-laden, video-laden devices.”

Evans also predicts that 3D printers will be as common as fridges in homes in the foreseeable future. “We are moving into a world where one size fits all, and anything and everything can be created on demand. While we download files and music now, in the future we will think nothing of downloading physical goods from the network.” 3D printing currently allows for 40 different types of materials to be printed.


Speaking at last year’s Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs also referred to the “Internet of Everything” and how all devices will soon be able to be connected.

“Our key vision is that the phone will sit in the centre of this Web of connectivity. It will essentially be your remote control for your environment,” said Jacobs, opening the discussion.

“Peer-to-peer will be of critical importance. In an increasingly complex environment, if we are going to be able to connect with the things around us, it will have to be as simple as possible.”

“We’re really at the beginning of this journey, and your phone will be your sixth sense to detect what is around you,” said Jacobs.

Ryuji Yamada, CEO of Japanese mobile service provider NTT Docomo, reiterated this, saying: “In the near future, we will see the arrival of the age of convergence – between mobile devices and various other like tools. We believe we can offer many new services by adding mobile connectivity to information appliances such as industrial equipment, automobiles and many other tools.”