Channel Giant Cisco Targets Digital Home Market

At the CES show, Cisco places home networking squarely in its sights, presenting a potential opportunity for channel networking expertise.

January 9, 2009

Al Senia

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Cisco used the Consumer Electronics Show this week as a launching pad for a new consumer strategy emphasizing home networking. The effort, involving new home-networking products, a new dedicated consumer business group and a Webcast press conference by CEO John Chambers that outlined the strategy, could have wide ramifications in the channel, where home networking solutions have been heavily touted but never fully realized.

In its vision, Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is pushing a "media-enabled home" with its centerpiece a multimedia home network that shares a broadband connection with PCs, set-top boxes, DVRs, an IP telephone, video gaming devices and other consumer electronic devices, all connecting seamlessly over a Cisco-based network..

Ultimately, Cisco sees full-scale visual networking entering the home, where HDTV, social networking and other collaborative devices would expand the reach and capability of the network.

Such a vision, if realized, would greatly expand the networking integration , service and support opportunities for channel partners in the home networking area. However, that is still some time away, and other vendors like Microsoft and Apple are working on similar technology visions. Sony also introduced a social networking platform at CES.

At the show, Cisco  rolled out its home networking strategy by introducing a white-label social networking software platform dubbed EOS, a SaaS-based product designed to be used by other companies in creating their own consumer-facing social sites. EOS will use Cisco's networking infrastructure to deliver social media content like blogs, message boards and video and audio content. Cisco said that Warner Music is already a customer.

Cisco also announced a new program that enables consumer electronics manufacturers to use the Home Network Administration Protocol (HNAP) in their devices. Cisco doesn't just have its eye on helping other vendors target the home audience, however: The company also talked up a new media hub and a wireless audio solution under its Linksys brand which aim to make it easier to consume digital media formats in the home.

"We're really focused on expanding that consumer strategy," Ned Hooper, senior vice president of Cisco's consumer group, said in a YouTube video detailing the new initiatives. Hooper described Cisco's vision of consumers moving "from simply a connected home environment, where people are sharing broadband connection for e-mail or Web usage, to a multimedia-enabled home, where truly all of the media and entertainment that consumers are experiencing is coming over the Internet and through a connected experience."

While EOS is a service that consumers will be able to access with their home networks, Cisco also wants to improve the overall home networking experience itself. That effort hinges on HNAP, a SOAP-based protocol that is intended to simplify networked device discovery and management.

Through the newly created Cisco Device Connections Program, Cisco said it would begin licensing HNAP to consumer device manufacturers.

In his press conference, Chambers said the company is going to be more aggressive about its home-networking efforts. "Many people think of Cisco as just entering the consumer market but we've been there for a long time,: said Chambers. "We've just been fairly quiet about what we've been doing, but we're not going to be quiet anymore."

Chambers boasted that Cisco plans many consumer-oriented announcements this year. "At the base of all this is a next generation that is enabled by intelligence throughout the network – the network becoming the platform," Chambers said.

(Sean Michael Kerner at contributed to this article.)

TAGS: video,Microsoft,wireless,Cisco,home networking

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