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Can the Cloud Solve Fragmentation Problems as Device Usage Grows?

The sun has set on another CES show filled with new gadgets, celebrity appearances, endless cab lines, partially-functional voice and data services, and back-to-back meetings. After meeting with many connected device companies, content owners, press and analysts, a few themes seemed to stand out.

The first big theme is that hyperconnectivity has become completely pervasive. Every imaginable device can be connected to the Internet to provide additional services. Phones, tablets, TVs and game consoles have typically been the big talk, with innovation focused around thinner, lighter weight devices, faster processing and memory, and greater storage on the device. However, the pervasiveness of this trend toward Internet-connected devices emerged in Las Vegas. In particular, it's interesting that many businesses in the automotive industry made major announcements at CES instead of the North American International Auto Show, which was taking place at the same time. It was also interesting to see all the growth in connected devices across health, fitness, home automation and control, home security and more. A great example of innovation is a company called Nest, that has reinvented something as simple as a thermostat to become a smart device by leveraging learning capabilities with Internet-supported functionality to make better decisions about controlling temperature, providing real value and energy cost savings to consumers. However, more devices from different businesses and industries becoming connected has created a major challenge.

This challenge, although not highlighted in many press stories, is the high fragmentation of technology and platforms across devices, which permeated almost every conversation at the show. In the standalone device world, a consumer could buy a TV or BluRay player, plug it in, and not have to worry about enabling other services over the Internet. However, in a hyperconnected world where devices need to share information and work with each other to support users, it has become clear that these devices don't all "speak the same language" or have the same capabilities to work together nicely. This diversity creates significant challenges with ensuring even basic compatibility across an eco-system. As an example, the differences in the video formats, bit rates, and media security supported across media devices like smart phones, tablets, smart TVs, and game consoles, has been raised as the number one challenge for content distributors. The cost to support and operationalize different workflows for multiple formats, security schemes and measurement in support of video, is continuing to create real barriers for making content more broadly available. While standards like MPEG and H.264 have helped converge the industry, many continue to diverge with the rapid pace of innovation on devices. As new functionality is developed, it creates new areas of fragmentation.

The third big theme is the use of the cloud to interconnect the fragmentation of devices and enable cohesive functionality and services across various device technologies and platforms. With the ongoing pace of innovation, there is a need for a bridging layer of technology or "universal translator" to allow devices to interact in support of different use cases. Many companies across industries and eco-systems are looking to the cloud to be this critical connective tissue. This makes a lot of logical sense because cloud-based services and applications can be adapted much more quickly to new devices. It also makes sense because any connected device can more easily and securely touch content and applications in the cloud, than other individual devices. At Akamai, we are continuing to focus on building technology in the cloud on our Intelligent Platform to support different use case across devices, working with our customers and partners in the various eco-systems and industries to realize the potential of the hyperconnected world.

Kris Alexander is Akamai's Chief Strategist for Connected Devices & Gaming