Home Gateways Provide Hub for Embedded Appliances

SAN FRANCISCO (06/28/2000) - The future of embedded Java applications will depend on a new kind of infrastructure, in which a gateway provides a coordination point between home or office applications and the rest of the Internet. These hubs will offer a combination of services, including:

Discovery and control of applications and devices within the home or office - A repository for data collected from appliances - A router - A firewall to protect the home network and appliances from hackers In the JavaOne session "Home Gateway Based on Java Technology," Tomihisa Kamada, vice president of research and development at Japan-based Access, talked about some of the elements that will drive home gateways, as well as efforts being undertaken to develop standards.

The session started off with a commercial that looked like a cross between a Better Homes and Gardens ad and an episode of The Jetsons. It showed how Access's GlobeWare middleware technology could be used for a variety of applications, such as calling a repair service about a malfunctioning refrigerator before the appliance's owner was even aware of the problem.

Because of the work he has been doing with Tokyo Electric Power, Kamada focused on how electric utilities would use a gateway. He said that an automated meter-reading appliance might make an ideal candidate for a home gateway: it is always on, and the utility company could pay for installing the system.

However, because the cost of manually reading a meter is less than $1 per month, utilities would need to find other applications for the gateway so the cost can be amortized across multiple services.

The gateway could also help utilities in remotely activating and deactivating power service without having to send a technician to the home. On the business side, utilities could use the gateway as a platform for providing value-added services such as security, energy-conservation consulting, and facilities management. Consumers may also be willing to pay more for the ability to control their home appliances remotely from a Web browser or a wireless phone.

Utility companies are interested in home gateways because the power industry is undergoing major transformation. Utilities are being influenced by industry deregulation, concerns about global warming, and the prospect of distributed power sources (such as microturbines) that would enable consumers to generate their own power.

Some of the requirements of this gateway are:

- Low cost

- Total reliability in an outdoor environment - Compact hardware - Ability to be independently controlled - Ease of use Kamada proposed that Access's GlobeWare server running on top of Java could provide a general-purpose environment for hosting applications. Further, the Java support would make it easy to add new services to the gateway. GlobeWare can manage application and user rights to services and devices on the network.

The home gateway will connect to devices in the home or office through one more of several networks being developed for the home, including Echonet, Bluetooth, Home Audio/Video Interoperability, HomePNA, and HomeRF.

Echonet is emerging as an important standard in Japan, where more than 70 companies -- including Matsushita Electric Ltd. (Panasonic), Mitsubishi Corp., Hitachi Ltd., Sharp Corp., and Toshiba Corp.-- are working on the technology.

Echonet specifies both the physical and applications layers for connecting devices in the home or office. The standard has already been completed, and several Japanese companies plan to announce products based on Echonet later this year.

Among the gateway technologies being developed for home networks are the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) and Ericsson's e-box. More than 60 companies have helped develop the OSGi specification overview, which is currently available on the Web.

About the author

George Lawton is a freelance journalist and consultant based in Brisbane, California, who focuses on e-commerce, Internet appliances, telecommunications, and a healthy office. He has written more than 700 stories for such magazines as IEEE Computer, JavaWorld, Knowledge Management, and Business 2.0.

Previously, he sailed to Antarctica in an 82-foot Chinese junk and helped build Biosphere II in Oracle, Arizona

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