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TP-Link’s Lino Notaro on launching new products and helping consumers make the right smart home purchases

Founded in 1996, TP-Link is well known throughout the world for its networking products. As the connected lifestyle continues to evolve, the manufacturer has been expanding its offerings to include a robust smart home range.

This year’s IFA show was the perfect opportunity for TP-Link to showcase exactly what it does best, and introduce a number of new products that take advantage of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard and open up its smart home range.

PCR caught up with Lino Notaro, the firm’s retail sales director, to discuss the benefits of Wi-Fi 6, how it values its online and offline retail partners, and what’s in store for the smart home market’s future.

Tell us a bit about your current role at TP-Link.

I am currently retail sales director, heading up a small team. Up until recently we have been looking after and driving the traditional retail sector, handling accounts like Argos, Maplin and the supermarkets.

Over the last month or so we’ve also inherited the ecommerce channel. So my team now handles traditional bricks and mortar retail as well as ecommerce, like Ebyuer, Scan, Overclockers and the like.

What new products did TP-Link launched at this year’s IFA show?

We launched products in two main areas. One was the new AX/Wi-Fi 6 range of routers, range extenders and PCIe cards. On another area of our stand we launched our new sub-brand of smart home products by the name of Tapo, in addition to our cards and cameras.

We launched a new Wi-Fi wall socket and a couple of security cameras under the Tapo name. What’s nice to see is that we actually had dedicated pods that were manned by either an Amazon rep or a Google rep. That really helped to properly demonstrate our compatibility with those two voice platforms in the smart home area.

A closer look at TP-Link’s AX50 Wi-Fi 6 smart router

How was the show overall for you guys?

It was a really good show. On our stand we had screens showing how TP-Link’s offerings can benefit people’s lifestyles and I had a number of really great meetings with UK retailers out there. It’s always a brilliant opportunity to show them the products that were on display and demonstrate them in an environment they are supposed to be in.

Do you think the smart home has really hit the main stream yet or is there still some more education needed around its benefits and features?

I don’t think we’re anywhere near market penetration right now. There are lots of consumers that are still wondering about the smart home area and the benefits it brings. This means there are lots of opportunities to educate consumers on these types of products.

I recently read that since 2016, 10% of people are planning to make a smart home product purchase in the next two years, and that’s doubled in just three years, so the amount of buyers are increasing.

Do you think it’s down to the brands or the retailers to educate customers?

Retailers play a key part in getting the message of convenience and lifestyle benefits across. I still believe that whether it’s offline or online retail, consumers are looking to those channels to self-educate.

Obviously brands make their own noise too, but retail is in a perfect position to deliver the final piece of that message.

For example, we’re about to launch a new range of smart home products into Curry’s and we’ve just about finalised a new counter-top display, which showcases the new products and delivers the right product information that consumers need so they can make the right purchasing decision.

How important is the retail channel to TP-Link and how are you helping your partners sell your products?

It is really important to us. We’ve always had really close trading ties. I’ve been at TP-Link for nearly six years and the brand was already in the retail space before I arrived. It’s nearly 10 years that TP-Link and been trading with online and offline retailers.

That channel is extremely important to us and smart home is very much a consumer product that lends convenience to people on a daily basis. Our objective – depending on the channel – is that we want to be in-store and we want to help create informative material that is as interactive as possible to help shoppers engage with our products, learn and make the right decisions.

TP-Link’s exhibition space at this year’s IFA show

Can you tell us a bit about Wi-Fi 6 and how it’s going to boost the smart home?

The Wi-Fi Alliance has now decided to give numbers to new Wi-Fi technology, which means consumers can relate to them a bit more. Most people don’t really know what AC or AX means, but when you start giving numbers to them it becomes much clearer – a bit like how smartphone manufacturers use numbers. So, AC was Wi-Fi 5 and the new AX is Wi-Fi 6.

There are a few different elements to Wi-Fi 6. As consumers add more Wi-Fi devices – laptops, tablets, smart TVs etc – and then bolt on a plethora of smart sockets and thermostats and bulbs, Wi-Fi 6 can better cope with managing and feeding Wi-Fi to all these devices without the latency we see nowadays.

We’re seeing things like Amazon’s Alexa taking longer to reply to questions and Netflix pausing for five seconds while it buffers – Wi-Fi 6 will contribute to eradicating all of that.

The other things about Wi-Fi 6 is that it has power saving attributes as well. If you have smartphones and tablets that are part of your network, it’s less draining on these devices.

Currently, there’s a constant pinging between devices and the router saying “I’m here, give me Wi-Fi”. This uses battery power, but that back and forth can be reduced somewhat with Wi-Fi 6.

Do you have any predictions for where the smart home market is heading in the near future?

After observing some of the trends at IFA and what’s going on in the market, my first thought is that I think we’ll start to see cars with smart speakers built into the dashboard. I read a few months ago that BMW were looking to develop this and work with Amazon and Google. Imagine leaving work, getting into your car and asking Alexa to switch on the lights and the coffee machine at home. You won’t need to mess around with your smartphone while driving and you’ll have things set up at home for when you get in. That’s one element of where the smart home is heading.

I also feel that geo-fencing is going to come into it. You can pre-programme some actions in your home. So when you penetrated your designated geo-fence, whether that’s five or 10 miles from home, that action will cause your smart home tech to switch on without even having to look at your smartphone, or even remember to tell it to do anything.

Smart speakers are becoming a very important part of the smart home market. Once you start integrating speakers with a smart plug, a smart bulb or your car, it will very quickly become a part of everyday life and you can’t imagine doing without it.

I also saw at IFA some smart plants. So in your home and in your garden, smart home technology is able to look after the plants, cover them up during winter, that sort of thing.

All of these new applications and ideas are extending the smart home to so many other areas.

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