The arrival of more intelligent home gateways, the addition of WiFi, DECT and femtocell connectivity plus storage and the expansion of services to include home monitoring and security, appliance control and energy management as well as a raft of other new domestic applications provides both a threat and an opportunity to service providers.
Where their responsibilities once stopped at the junction box into the home, these now extend right into the heart of domestic life. Are the supporting systems up to the job?
The connected home space has promised much over the years and many companies have attempted to attack what is widely recognised as a huge market opportunity. Yet, despite the technological advances, our homes still lack much in the way of real intelligence.
We have islands of technology; the broadband router supporting communication and media, the set-top box delivering entertainment, and we now see a new entrant with utilities planning to use smart meters as a route to enter this potentially lucrative market with their smart energy plays. Unfortunately, convergence remains a dream.
The problem is that service providers have traditionally not gone beyond the gateway and in-home systems for services such as energy management, automation and security have been too complicated and expensive for mass market – usually requiring a truck roll. Part of the problem is their OSS/BSS systems have become monsters that now block innovation with changes taking huge investment and time.
In my view, it’s not the support systems that are the problem for service providers, it’s their business models.
They need to adapt and innovate and move beyond the gateway into delivering the connected home to their consumers. To do this they need a family of products that can be delivered at mass consumer prices, easy to install, and relevant to their needs. More importantly, they need to exploit these new devices to deliver a new generation of services that will compensate for the loss of traditional revenues and the squeeze on broadband pricing.
However, to succeed they need new thinking and new business models.
They need to move away from the model that sees the gateway as the overlord of the home network to a model where it simply collects and transmits data. The current model has been derived from small businesses where large central servers or gateways manage a range of propriety devices and systems. The solution cannot work for the home because it is too complex for the consumer with the gateway becoming too expensive and inflexible. This model has been the downfall of convergence.
The answer lies in the Cloud, not in the gateway.
Many major manufacturers are recognising that it\’s not about building more intelligence into devices in the home – it\’s about striking a new balance. Use devices to manage applications and simply relay data to the Cloud where it can be aggregated on specialised platforms and exploited to deliver a range of new services through simple portals via the web or any mobile device. This will deliver the vision of convergence and give some control over customers.
Convergence can happen in the Cloud and it offers many benefits. For example, a security system sends a signal to a cloud based platform to say the home-owner is leaving and the platform relays the message back to smart plugs on a different network in the home to power down devices and reduce electricity consumption.
The Cloud is at the heart of the model relaying information to mobile devices and simplifying the installation. It provides service providers with a way in which they can offer a wider portfolio of different services that can be integrated into their main service portal. The model allows different technologies; WiFi, DECT, Zigbee etc to co-exist. More importantly, multiple platforms can be used to deliver entertainment, media, communications and home management. The service provider can focus on merging the output from the various platforms into a common user interface and then adapt the OSS/BSS to support the new business.
Manufacturers have recognised the opportunity. The new generation of home gateways from Technicolor allow for applications to be embedded and partners like Intamac can exploit their Cloud-based platform to deliver services for energy management, automation, telecare, video and security to Technicolor’s customers.
This model doesn’t overcome all the challenges with legacy OSS/BSS systems but it addresses some of the current limitations because it provides options. In the short term, the new generation of service platforms such as Intamac’s can co-exist with simple rules for data exchange; in the longer term, the OSS/BSS systems will themselves become Cloud based simplifying integration and allowing real-time transaction management. Moreover, TR69 and other remote management tools will add still more value for the consumer.
The move to Cloud based management is both an opportunity and a threat for traditional service providers. They are ideally placed to leverage the smart home opportunity; they have the knowledge of the consumer, the understanding of the home network and the support infrastructure in place. However, the new generation of Cloud based platforms lowers the barrier to entry for competitors and with new players like utilities entering the space there is a very real treat and their competitive advantage could be lost.