Schematic of living room with sofa, speakers etc.

The home of the near future

The homes we have to look forward to in 2020 will feature technology in a more discrete way - and inside the modern home a computerised heart will reside, says E&T.

Ten years ago, if you were lucky enough to have an ADSL connection, you would be able to download at speeds approaching 300kbps. Now this may seem fairly small, but it was a huge leap on the dial-up connections.

BT is in the process of upgrading its fibre optic network and, by their reckoning, 40 per cent of consumers will be able to access broadband speeds of up to 40Mbps by the time the London Olympic torch is lit in 2012. This rollout represents the effect of expanding fibre to the street cabinet. Virgin Media can offer similar speeds today.

The main driver for these increased speeds is video-on-demand services. Originally, the World Wide Web was envisaged to transmit static Web pages. But when you consider that a 30-minute high-definition (HD) video can consume the equivalent of 72,000 emails - you can see why this increase is needed.

Therefore, the next stage will be to build out fibre directly to each home - which will allow broadband speeds to reach anywhere between 100Mbps and 300Mbps.

Home networking technologies

Streaming HD media around the home will become common place. Currently, today’s Wi-Fi networks are simply not up to scratch for transmitting a HD 1080p picture from one room to another.

The current Wi-Fi standard, 802.11n, has a theoretical throughput of 300Mbps. But in reality, you will be lucky to get a third of this. The main problem is that the frequency that these technologies use (2.4GHz and above 5GHz) are unregulated and, therefore, a great number of devices are competing for bandwidth in these frequencies.

However, once digital switchover is completed, it is possible that more frequencies could be freed for use by whatever succeeds current Wi-Fi. Perhaps the emerging 802.11ac standard being hammered out by the IEEE will use these relatively untouched frequencies. This promises a throughput of 1Gbps. But if it is able to transmit at one-third of this, it would be a vast improvement on current transmission rates.

Although existing homes will most likely continue to use wireless technologies, its likely that new builds are likely to include wired networking cabling as standard. Who knows? It may even be a requirement of the wiring regulations.

Computing Technology

Since most TV content will be delivered via IP (Internet Protocol), the distinction between TVs and computers will hasten significantly. Basically, any device with a display - be it a mobile phone, TV or a digital photo frame, will be able to stream TV.

Additionally, if chip companies like Intel are to continue on their current trajectory, we will have devices which have cores numbering over 100. The one problem which Intel is facing is creating the programming tools necessary to cope with this level of parallelism. But this is a problem it claims to be working on - and the company is confident that it will still be able to deliver several more times performance than today.

But the computing environment will most likely be centralised - with photos, videos, programmes and even the operating system existing on a central server in the home. This is something that is becoming increasingly common in the enterprise environment - and will also become common in the home environment as well.

Display Technologies

In the late 1950s most homes had one television set. It wasn’t until the 1980s that most homes added a second. Today, a typical family may have three or more sets.

The main cathode ray tube (CRT) in the living room is fast becoming an extinct species as consumers replace them for flat screen models. The problem is that the larger flat screens (be it LCD or plasma) are consuming more energy than the CRTs.

However, displays in the future are likely to consume far less energy. By 2020, the current crop of LCD and plasma displays will be old hat and replaced by more efficient displays - such as OLED (organic light-emitting display) screens.

Samsung and Sony have already released OLED displays, but these are small and prohibitively expensive. In the future, OLEDs will be more energy efficient - by about 70 per cent compared to existing backlit LCDs, according to the OLED Association.

They will be on every type of device from the mobile phone to a 46in flat. As stated earlier, the distinction between home computer and TV will be blurred as on-demand services will dominate and be able to be streamed on any display.

Web 3.0

In simple terms, if you want to book a trip to London today to see a show on 25 January, you would probably look up train times on Network Rail’s website, you would then have to go to The Trainline’s website to find the best deal and book the ticket.

Then you may go to Ticketmaster’s website to book the performance.

You may subsequently book accommodation through Expedia. All these are your preferred suppliers.

By 2020, all you would have to write in the browser bar is “I want to watch Les Miserables in London on 25 January” then just sit back and let Web 3.0 handle the details.

With an augmented reality mirror, you will also be able to see what you look like in a new outfit that you want to buy over the Internet for your trip.

Sustainable Technologies

The latest EU directives on energy appliances stipulate that devices have to operate at less than 1 Watt in standby. Soon this will drop even further to half a Watt - with further cuts in the future. This will help cut energy bills, but other measures will also be required.

Future governments will incentivise consumers to invest in solar power. For example, this is already Conservative party policy if they form a future UK government.

The last incandescent lightbulb would have been turned off years ago by the year 2020. However, current energy-saving CFLs may be superceded by LED-based lighting, which produces more natural light and can be dimmed using current wiring circuitry. Although available now, they are prohibitively expensive.

Smart metering will be standard - and this is already being trialled by several energy companies. Therefore, the future consumer will be more energy savvy than their 2010 counterpart.

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