Heading into 2009, web-connected consumer electronics are finally on the horizon, and players from Cisco to AT&T are salivating at the opportunity. But in the welter of wires connecting our devices, Broadcom sees an opportunity to offer chips that can connect devices to each other, the home network and even back out to the web at large. And while the downturn will take its toll, the chipmaker’s strategy of integrating a variety of wireless radios on a single chip for inclusion in these connected devices has already started to pay off.
GigaOM: Do you see your home networking and handset businesses converging as service providers seek to integrate their wireless devices into home networks?
McGregor: We see a very high degrees of convergence certainly in the home and on the handset. It used to be that someone would buy a TV set and hold onto it for 20 years, but now there’s innovation not only in the displays but also the connectivity — not only to devices in the home — but also to the Internet. At the same time, you have these handsets with high-speed connectivity, and people want to use them to connect to their home networks.
GigaOM: What will this mean for service providers? Are they playing a role right now in tying all of this together?
McGregor: Service providers are going to struggle with that for a little bit. The ability to offer more features, and to charge for those features, is extremely exciting, but there’s a paranoia that they could lose services and revenue off their provider networks.
GigaOM: When is convergence going to be a reality, and what are the roadblocks the industry needs to overcome?
McGregor: This is improving every year. Today you can go to one of your cable providers and get these triple- and quad-play services, and that will help on the carrier side. On the consumer electronics side are emerging standards, DLNA and high-speed wireless connected devices such as 60 GHz. There’s also MoCA, that will tie into the home’s wired infrastructure. Other interesting stuff will be when we integrate Bluetooth into devices so we can use our cell phones as a remote control. There’s no reason Bluetooth can’t do picture-in-picture on your cell phone, so you can preview a channel on your cell phone before changing it.
GigaOM: I know you’re a neutral vendor of silicon to a variety of devices, but what do you think the converged device of the future looks like? Will it be a set-top box, a converged TV, a PC?
McGregor: In the 3-5 year horizon it’s all of the above, and even more, such as game consoles. They’re powerful machines because they’re subsidized hardware. Now in 10-20 years, that is another question. I still think there will be multiple devices in the house because everyone will need something different.
GigaOM: That brings up the issue of one device that can do everything or multiple devices that do one thing well, especially on the handset side. Will we get there?
McGregor: In the handheld space, cell phones have won with digital cameras and Mp3 players on board, but there are a lot of other things, such as wallets and house keys, that could be integrated. There has been a lot of innovation on single-function devices in the past, and now there’s a lot of innovation in integrating things into these multifunction devices that makes them so exciting right now.
GigaOM: In this brave new connected world, how often will people need to replace their gadgets?
McGregor: Well, the industry wants them replaced every few months. But we’ve seen with smaller, sub-$200 devices like cell phones and MP3 players that 2-3 years is long time to hold onto them, but when you spend thousands on a TV or speakers, you hope that will last longer, like maybe five years. But new technology in displays and connectivity will drive replacements cycles in the years to come for TVs.