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BT trials hint at future of BT Vision: Multiroom set-top boxes?

BT has dropped a few hints of its vision of the future for UK connected homes and potentially its own BT Vision service today.

Speaking at Digital Home World Summit in London today, Nick Sim, head of Connected Home Research for BT announced that live trials have been taking place streaming TV to three separate screens around the home.

One ‘Master’ set top box is connected to the main home router which slings content to two more ‘Slave’ boxes.

BT trials hint at future of BT Vision: Multiroom set-top boxes?

The live trials took place in a range of real homes, from terraced houses to country pads, in order to get a feel for ‘real life’ conditions outside of a lab.

In a chat with Sim he was keen to emphasise that this was more of a trial of the home network’s capabilities, rather than a test of a multi room service. Though this doesn’t rule out this as a distinct possibility for a future version of BT Vision.

During the rather doomy-sounding ‘The Impending Home Network Data Crunch’ speech, Sim also talked about the shape of future home networks. Future home networks will likely be a hybrid of wireless and wired solutions, said Sim.

Next-gen 5GHz Wi-Fi is fast and space efficient, but BT’s trials have found that range within the home means that not everyone will get optimum service. Wired solutions using CAT5 and POF (Plastic Optical Fibre) will negate the range issue, provided you can spare the expense of running cable to the nether regions of your home. POF cables also need media converters which are costly and not great space savers.

BT trials hint at future of BT Vision: Multiroom set-top boxes?

Powerline adapters, which use existing home wiring to send data around the home, are comparatively easy to set up – you just plug adapters into the mains. It’s a mixture of 5GHz Wi-Fi and Powerline that BT thinks will form the backbone of future home networks:

“Ideally we want a ‘no new wires’ solution that doesn’t require us to go in and put wires in everywhere,” said Sim.

“The obvious option is basically to combine Wi-Fi and Powerline. From looking at our trial results, in a reasonable number of cases where Wi-Fi doesn’t work or Powerline doesn’t work, the other is actually still up and running.”

BT’s tests show that with Powerline there’s a noticeable dip in performance between the hours of 5pm and 11pm – when everyone gets home from work, turns on lights, the TV, starts using the microwave.

Sim talked about intelligent routing solutions which would route data over one network when the other wasn’t performing optimally.

“Not only could you potentially bond them to get greater bandwidth, when one isn’t working you could use intelligent routing to make sure you’re always using the most reliable connection at any particular time.”

Similarly, the Powerline portion of a hybrid home network wouldn’t be used for any mobile data around the home – you’d be connected to Wi-Fi on your phone nearly all the time at home. Or as Sim puts it, “we’re not going to start putting fibre into iPads.”

BT trials hint at future of BT Vision: Multiroom set-top boxes?

As BT continues to connect home UK homes and exchanges to its next-gen fibre network, Sim talked about how the broadband bottleneck will move from the network and into the home.

“We’re spending billions right now connecting homes up to our new fibre network and we want to offer a range of exciting services over that new bandwith. And quite simply, that’s pointless if we can’t distribute that bandwidth around the home on devices that customers want to consume those services on.”

Figures from TalkTalk today show how a little digital Feng Shui can improve your incoming download speed by as much as 4Mbps. Getting our homes in order (literally) for home networking is the next big step if the connected home is to be a real thing of the future.