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The Future of the Telco Connected Home

Friendly’s VP Product speaks at the Broadband Forum’s webinar on the Future of the Connected Home.

What will be the future of the connected smart home? Take a peek into what’s to come from the eyes of industry experts, Friendly Technologies’ Tzvi Skapinker and Verizon’s Mike Talbert. In this webinar, we discuss what’s to come, what sort of service deployment challenges service providers may face, and how to overcome them.

This webinar took place on March 16th, 2021, and was moderated by Craig Thomas of the Broadband Forum. It was 3 out of 3 in a series of webinars based on the OMDIA survey, The Future of the Telco-Connected Home. Disclosure: Friendly Technologies was one of the sponsors of “The Future of the Telco Connected Home” survey from OMDIA and the Broadband Forum.

Video Transcript:

Craig Thomas: So, let’s now hand this over to Tzvi Skapinker. Tzvi is the Vice President of Product Management at Friendly technologies. He’s really going to go I guess into the next step, which is really into a little bit more depth on how USP can be used both from a vendor as well as a service provider and as a catalyst for all these new virtualized, containerized modular services, looking at some use cases, and also looking at exactly how some service providers are using USP today to make this a reality. Tzvi himself has been in the industry for over 20 years, both from a telecom and enterprise and public sector perspective. And within Friendly he’s, as I said, in charge of product development and product management, specifically for IoT, smart home device management, and embedded clients. So Tzvi, over to you.

Tzvi Skapinker: Thank you. Thank you very much, Craig, for this very kind introduction. And thank you Mike, for this very interesting and enlightening presentation as well. So just wanted to ask you Craig if you see my presentation okay, and if…

Craig Thomas: We see it perfectly, thank you.

Tzvi Skapinker: Right. So thank you very much. So hi, everyone and thank you for joining and also staying with us. So today I will be discussing the connected home and some of the challenges that they are facing during the deployment of additional value-added services as Mike previously introduced to us as well.

So the era when home broadband routers or CPE were providing just the basic routing and networking is long gone. We today see the emerging demand for a variety of connected home services that are beyond data communication, voice, and video. All clearly so with the recent Aungier report that the growth of connected home devices continues to rise with dozens of connected appliances and services becoming more popular than ever. So we have seen the role of the service provider transitioning from the traditional responsibility, which was previously limited only to the edge of the customer premises. And now he’s actually penetrating to the home with Wi-Fi smart home security and a plethora of connected devices. Well, we are all aware that the challenges presented here and the challenges that we are going to present as well are preliminary to how to provide a stable and secured and efficient network. How to reduce churn and increase customer satisfaction. The assumption is that the service provider wants to offer more services to increase output and reduce churn. The expansion that we have all seen with Wi-Fi has given two service providers the possibility to offer a variety of value-added services. These were associated with more in the past like media tech and consumer electronic companies. The question here is actually how can a service provider leverage their existing infrastructure to provide additional services that will compete with the OTT solutions. We see that part of the services that are in demand are being provided by various over-the-top providers, as we mentioned before, streaming services cloud service providers, and consumer electronic companies. And the attitude towards broadband CPE is changing. When a service provider in Telco’s see the connected home today, actually is a growth factor and an area for investment for service differentiation between the different service providers.

However, there is a cost. This new complexity has an operational cost for maintaining additional devices or services, orchestration, and also a cost of products and services that make the business model uncertain. So how do you introduce new services in a cost-effective manner? And equally important, how do you balance between operational efficiency and service deployment? These questions I will try to answer in the following slides.

So we have all seen and I think also with Mike’s presentation, provisioning new services onto existing devices is a top challenge. Certainly, you have all heard during the last few webinars in this series about the challenges of Wi-Fi and how to create a more stable environment with higher customer satisfaction. But how do you actually add value-added services like business services for performance or remote management? How do you add consumer services, smart home, parental control, IoT, or even e-health? So these are actually considered business and operation challenges for all the service providers.

So I would like to introduce a use case for consideration. This is the case of an ISP that is serving around 2 million broadband users. They provide the most common service today, home internet, Wi-Fi, mesh, extenders, and so on. They provide also an over-the-top TV and gaming. In this case, the ISP wishes to introduce a new smart home service. One that will implement and evolve home security with additional sensors and devices. So how they will be able to provision and manage this new service? Let’s take a look.

Traditionally, the service provider has an ACS that manages the CPE, and also the related Wi-Fi and mesh for the current home solution. The ISP wants to add a new smart home service for their end customer. One approach would be to add actually another gateway with a smart home embedded client that will communicate and control all the sensors and provide also some additional in-home radio functionality for ZigBee, Z-wave or BLE if he wishes to introduce them. This is the most common solution that many service providers are taking today. It introduces a new complexity with operations and how to manage actually more than one device. So there are a few needs that we need to consider. We need to consider how to manage additional devices as most of the gateways that we are introducing don’t offer a TR-069 interface, but often they are providing some proprietary solution over SNMP or HTTP. Performance and monitoring are actually becoming a challenge. How do you monitor the performance of this gateway? How do you monitor application usage and everything? There’s a difficulty in deployment, extensive integration with the service provider back-office system, and also some extensive financial investment in the new product. So when it comes down to brass tacks, the operational cost here is very high for the deployment of a new service, it might even have a devastating impact on the business model.

So is it worth it? Especially considering that we are getting minimal device management capabilities from a smart home gateway that doesn’t support TR or any other related device management methods and protocols. Let’s consider this approach that the industry and we as well are trying to establish. Using a containerized service application deployment, a service provider selects this approach to reduce costs, deploy new services with ease and reduce churn. This is done by offering a variety of new applications and services, as I mentioned before smart home, parental control, cybersecurity, IoT, smart metering, smart energy, and others. This is actually all being done with a single device. One of the main challenges is orchestration for containers and applications that should be addressed by the service provider.

Well in this case, we worked with our ISP customer and the device manufacturer to add an embedded smart home client software container to be installed on the CPE. But in general, for CPEs that are supporting TR-157 software model management, the integration can be quite short and will not require extensive modification from the CPE manufacturer. However, in this case, the manufacturer added an additional ZigBee interface with a minimal cost for just a few dollars in order to enable a variety of sensors and devices that could be easily associated with a smart home client. When adding software features and services to an existing CPE, there are some key variables that we should take into consideration as RAM, storage, flash and the type of containers that are to be used, and also the hardware abstraction layer that the device is offering for us.

So let’s take a quick look at an architectural consideration for considering the device middleware, very much like the one that they Mike previously introduced for us with the purple framework. Actually utilizing TR-157 and USP allows us easy integration for third-party applications and software for containers. It gives us the ability to install and upgrade the main firmware via TR-069 or USP and the containers via TR-157. This also reduces the QA effort. Well as applications can be verified and approved independently from the gateway firmware. It uses standard API based on the TR-181 data model and lifecycle management for various applications becomes visible with the CPEs that are supporting this design approach. They expose the software interface as an SDK to third-party software that will provide the hardware abstraction layer for integration with different interfaces. This will also provide the ability to execute containers or software installation procedures. With a standard approach, we are getting it possible to install and upgrade the main firmware using TR-USP, install containers via TR-157 in use of a standard base TR-181 data model that will simplify the integration with the CPE itself.

So this brings us to how to manage a software model module on a device using TR-157. In the industry, we rely on TR-157 specification to enable flexible management and control for software delivery, relying on TR-069 and USP to perform the orchestration. The main features we are achieving with this implementation for Device Management and software orchestration, actually, we are using single ACS, we are able to perform the routine device management tasks and software management, container creation and activation instead of adding additional hardware. We are also able to perform service provisioning. A customer can have an open API for integration with a service provider back office system. We can also achieve the device and service performance monitoring including data analytics that was also mentioned before. And of course, still remaining with CPE zero-touch provisioning and configuration and backups that are very important for the ongoing daily operations and maintenance for the service provider.

So as I’m coming to the end of my presentation, this was all achieved by using an open standard for both the CPE and the ACS or the controller in the new future with USP adaptation. So what we see here is just a quick view of the TR-181 data model which is being nicely visualized here as a device tree. So we can see that when we are using open standards, we are very capable of defining and adding, and managing new services quite easily and rapidly. TR-069 has actually defined how broadband devices connect to the internet and we are all aware of that. But with the evolving of USP, it is used not just for installation and provisioning of services but also for adding new services and applications. This helps us to manage and maintain a high operational level. It also gives us the ability to measure and provide performance information and data analytics. And actually, we are simplifying the service delivery with accelerated time to market for new service deployments. So in order to meet the challenges and take advantage of the new revenue opportunities that the future of connected home creates for us, we need to maintain open standards that will remove the technical barriers and enable the service provider to successfully compete with global tech companies. And this actually comes together with what we have seen, I think with Mike’s previous presentation as well about the importance of having an open standard that will allow us to have easy integration with new software applications with a variety of different devices. So thank you very much for your time.

Craig Thomas: Tzvi thank you very much indeed. Really appreciate that. A great approach and a great interest in how we’re using open standards as part of this whole solution set.