Understanding the Technology of Broadband: In-Home Technologies
Connectivity has become an essential utility for day to day life. High speed internet has shifted from ‘nice to have’ to an essential for residential customers who want a seamless, secure home network that can support video streaming and multiple devices without interruption.
Indeed, the days of dial-up are long gone and the market now urgently requires networks that are not only fast but that deliver a seamless quality of service which is able to support 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and media streaming.
As a result telcos and solutions providers are now rising to the challenge of meeting these new demands. Mesh networking solutions, network functions virtualization (NFV), fibre-strength broadband, artificial intelligence (AI), and network automation are some of the major technologies that are being touted in the broadband space as solutions to improve the in-home experience. Cybersecurity concerns, too, are also prompting organizations to re-examine their own connectivity infrastructures.
In this report, we will explore the major technologies that telcos need to consider in future broadband business models for residential customers, how they are currently being deployed, and which technologies are essential for future competitiveness and revenue opportunities.
"High-speed connections are emerging with 15% of homes already making use of next-generation broadband offerings, including fibre, which is double the rate of 2016 - but still far below the EU's target of 50% by 2020."
WHY IN-HOME TECHNOLOGIES?
The European Commission estimates that 75% of European homes are currently subscribed to fixed broadband services, and one-third of all homes have at least 30 Mbps connections at their disposal. High-speed connections are emerging with 15% of homes already making use of next-generation broadband offerings, including fibre, which is double the rate of 2016 - but still far below the EU’s target of 50% by 2020.
Furthermore, consumers have adopted mobile technologies, streaming services, and IoT products in their droves, with research by EE suggesting that up to 50 connected devices will be in the average home by 2020 - and these Wi-Fi-enabled devices must be supported by broadband providers as the keepers of residential connection gateways.
However, traditional networking equipment, old routers, and aging copper cabling can cause connection failures, bottlenecks, information flow issues, IP throttling, and slow speeds. Poor service and unhappy customers can lead to lost revenue - thus, as the broadband market becomes more competitive, now more than ever before telcos need to deliver a quality product to retain customers, improve ARPU and be seen as a leader in home connectivity.
WHAT THE INDUSTRY IS SAYING
"Mesh networks are primed for widespread adoption as a means to eliminate connectivity dead zones and better meet the demands of modern consumers and smart homes."
Michael Gustavsson, Vice President, products and services at Seliro
MESH WI-FI SOLUTIONS
Mesh networks are arrays of nodes that communicate with each other with out-of-bounds signaling to bolster and strengthen Wi-Fi coverage. Each node is a radio transmitter that uses common Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11a to operate, and the network is thus able to intelligently self-manage traffic without multiple hubs.
There may be several nodes, hundreds, or even thousands depending on the mesh networks’ purpose, and the more nodes that are talking to each other, the stronger the signal.
Wireless mesh networks (WMNs) and similar network topologies have been used in environments where strong Internet connections are crucial for a number of years, but it has only been recently that the technology has become cheap enough for the average household to adopt.
Mesh networks are proving popular with operators such as Vodafone, BT, Sky, INEA, and Deutsche Telekom. Vendors including Google, Linksys, Netgear, Zyxel, Plume, and TP-Link all offer various home mesh Wi-Fi product ranges, with firms such as Qualcomm providing the backbone processing power.
Mesh Wi-Fi can be of considerable benefit given its low setup cost, the extension of coverage through multi-hopping, reliability, and quick deployment in comparison to laid fibre. However, the main drawback of the technology is its complexity as nodes within the mesh act as both a router and host. A mesh network does operate independently of physical layers, but if these physical layers are not functional or reliable, this can impact the performance of the network.
Despite these potential issues, the mesh Wi-Fi market is expected to rise at a CAGR of 9.7% until 2025, with smart cities, connected vehicles, and IoT tipped as the catalysts for further development of this network system.
“Mesh networks are primed for widespread adoption as a means to eliminate connectivity dead zones and better meet the demands of modern consumers and smart homes,” says Michael Gustavsson, Vice President, products and services at Seliro.
The protection of privacy, too, is another means by which in-house developers can promote their offerings. As mesh Wi-Fi does not require a single access point of authority, the technology is being explored as a means to decentralize the spread of information and bolster online privacy both locally and at a national level.
HOME GATEWAYS AND CPE EQUIPMENT
Consumers now have access to a wide variety of home networking equipment, often referred to as customer-premises equipment (CPE). Among these offerings are modems, simple devices which convert digital data into analog data in order to transmit it over analog phone lines; routers, which maintain the connection between different networks through both wired and wireless connections; switches which use device MAC addresses to send data to designated ports, and hubs which blast data to ports.
Home gateways, in their traditional form, convert information into different formats for use by networking equipment and are able to bridge the gap between Wide Area Networks (WAN) and Local Area Networks (LAN).
These devices, as well as other forms of plugand-play networking equipment, are provided by operators through subscription models. Without CPEs, consumers have no means to access their broadband subscriptions unless they are based in the cloud. However, the shift to 5G and next-generation fibre which promises gigabit per second speeds means that legacy, old networking equipment is no longer fit for purpose without technological improvements, and the industry is pushing to update their capabilities.
As a result, a number of operators - including Comcast, Charter, Vodafone, Taiwan Broadband Communications, Telecom Argentina, Liberty Global, and many more - have adopted what is known as the 10-gigabit per-second data networks (10G) initiative.
In order to compete with what 5G promises, Intel is supplying these operators with the equipment required to support high-speed broadband in-house, with field trials due to begin in 2020.
“With groundbreaking, scalable capacity and speeds, the 10G platform is the wired network of the future that will power the digital experiences and imaginations of consumers for years to come,” says Michael Powell, president of NCTA. “As an industry, we are dedicated to delivering an exceptional national infrastructure that will power digital advancement and propel our innovation economy into the future.”
"As an industry, we are dedicated to delivering an exceptional national infrastructure that will power digital advancement and propel our innovation economy into the future."
Michael Powell, president of NCTA
THE SMART HOME
The smart home is a concept used to describe the array of connected and IoT devices now available for use in residential properties, that often involves home automation, energy & utility management, and more often than not, a connected cloud service.
Smart home devices may include everything from Wi-Fi-enabled security systems to connected fridges, but all share a common thread: the need for a stable Internet connection. O2, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, RWE, and EDF are some of many operators who are beginning to explore how the smart home ecosystem can turn a profit, given their unique and central position as the providers of broadband services that the smart home relies upon.
Samsung, Amazon, Google, Apple, Cisco, IBM, Intel, GE Appliances, and Philips all offer consumer devices that can be integrated into smart home ecosystems. Whilst some vendors use open standards, others, such as Apple, tend to lean towards proprietary models.
However, interoperability problems between devices and gateways and security vulnerabilities that may leave homes open to cybersecurity attacks including surveillance, data theft, and tampering are challenges which are dominating the conversation at present.
The smart home is currently fractured and varies in complexity. Progress is being made, however, with, vendors now beginning to see that working together and sharing in-house expertise to create interoperable systems and devices is in the consumer interest and will result in expanded revenue streams. Operators, however, need to stake their claim now as gatekeepers before cloud services and IoT device manufacturers corner every sector of the market Operators could choose to provide their own IoT management solutions and devices, but if they wish to exploit the smart home in this manner, they should also take the same lesson as vendors and keep openness at the heart of future operations.
“Home traffic is getting piped into their clouds rather than BT or Sky, and so ISPs are losing out on the traffic they are piping into someone’s home,” says Rahul Patel, Qualcomm SVP & GM of Connectivity. “You as an operation are perceived to be the one to support the Wi-Fi in the home. If you don’t move fast, you lose out on the home becoming a cloud providers.”
AI FOR IMPROVED HOME WI-FI
Buzzwords in almost every industry, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are paving the way for new applications in voice recognition, natural language processing, object detection, Big Data, analytics, and more.
In the world of the home and Wi-Fi, AI and ML have the potential to bolster standard networking equipment to improve home Wi-Fi speeds and stability, as well as automatically detect and block cyber threats. They also have the potential to counteract a problem often encountered in urban environments: the density of Wi-Fi demand, which can lead to dropped connections and slow speeds.
A technology that is already on the up, some vendors have already begun using AI in their own networks to reduce congestion through AI-based algorithms able to optimize channel settings based on data, as well as to teach access points to regulate their transmissions and the power required for them, leading to increased airtime availability, Wi-Fi capacity, and economical energy usage.
"Operators can make use of AI now to improve the efficiency of their own network infrastructures and traffic management."
On the operator side, Orange is one of the major names already using AI to improve home networks and customer service. For instance, Cujo AI provides AI-based cybersecurity and intelligence solutions for network operators.
DOMOS also provides ISPs with a way to tackle traffic congestion through “dense area” intelligent algorithms. AI is also being explored as a means to personalize the subscriber experience through the content they consume and by way of intelligent chatbots.
It should be noted, however, that AI and ML have become blanket terms to describe a wide array of technologies which may not truly relate to systems based on intelligence, learning, and smart algorithms, and the use of these technologies in the home may also be limited to the capabilities of CPEs and network visibility restrictions. Despite this, advances in artificial intelligence together, with cloud computing, may pave the way for more intelligent Wi-Fi management in the future and at the least, operators can make use of AI now to improve the efficiency of their own network infrastructures and traffic management.
“While AI and machine learning technologies are powerful and will ultimately have a major impact across all industries and society, you need to put a face on AI that allows the average person to consume them,” explains Bob Friday, CTO, and Co-Founder of Mist Systems. “This is where natural language will play an increasingly important role. Domain experts may love their scripting and query languages, the average person does not.”
WHAT THE INDUSTRY IS SAYING
"It's up to home broadband providers to bring these security solutions to their customers."
Paul Palmer, Director Business Development, at F-Secure Corporation
"60% of consumers would happily purchase security and privacy services from their ISP."
[F-Secure Consumer Research: 4 years-12 countries-20,000 consumer interviews-15 million data points]
The reason for this increased security lies in the fact that, as IoT, mobility, and automation have entered the home, they have forged new network connections which may increase the number of potential avenues for a cyber attack.
As gatekeepers to home networks, operators should consider developing home security solutions, not as separate products, but as extensions to existing subscriber contracts to increase contract values and ARPU.
These value-added services can give consumers the peace of mind that their networks have an additional layer of security, while operators themselves can take advantage of their established customer bases to generate additional profit.
Home security solutions, too, are possible over existing Wi-Fi connections - and so do not require additional investment beyond the cost of their original development. Comcast, for example, accounts for over one million subscribers for its Xfinity Home solution which includes 24/7 home monitoring and home sensor equipment. V-Home by Vodafone is another add-on solution offered to subscribers, made possible through a partnership with Samsung, and TalkTalk already includes a cybersecurity home monitoring solution as part of the firm’s subscription packages.
If the operator does not boast their own cybersecurity solution for consumers, then there is always the option to partner with a vendor to deliver this value add to clients. Deutsche Telekom, for example, runs an online store which features smart home products from vendors including Amazon, Google, Nest, and Sonos, as well as security solutions from Centralite. Other operators including BT and Verizon have also taken this route, likely to be a profitable one considering a recent F-Secure survey that suggested 60% of consumers would happily purchase security and privacy services from their ISP.
However, there is a shortage of talent in the cybersecurity space and so to move this trend forward, operators should consider partnering with established cybersecurity companies to take advantage of the business opportunity.
“It’s up to home broadband providers to bring these security solutions to their customers,” explained Paul Palmer, Director Business Development, at F-Secure Corporation. “Partnering with a cybersecurity partner to offer value-added IoT security solutions on top of broadband services is one way a broadband provider can secure their customers’ connected lives, and in doing so, enhance their own brand loyalty and trust.”
Vendors and operators need to consider the home not just as a single subscription revenue stream, but rather an opportunity to offer different packages and solutions given their central position as internet gatekeepers.
Through fibre, improved Wi-Fi solutions, and AI home connectivity is improving, and this is leading to increased uptake of connected devices within the home. As this shift takes place and the connected home becomes increasingly interoperable and standardised, the opportunity will arise for companies not only to offer value-added subscriptions to secure these devices and home networks, but also potentially to develop their own IoT products to offer on the market - or risk losing out to competitors.
- With the rise of Wi-Fi technologies and channels, the market is ripe for CPE manufacturers and IoT device developers to seize new revenue streams
- IoT, streaming services, and home automation requires investment into mesh topologies which can prevent bottlenecks and improve home networks
- Mesh Wi-Fi solutions developed in-house and offered to consumers can support emerging IoT and home automation setups
- The smart home can provide a new revenue stream for operators willing to seize the chance for new business opportunities as home connectivity gatekeepers
- The majority of consumers are willing to purchase security solutions offered by their ISP as a value-added offering on subscription packages or as standalone products
- AI and ML cannot only boost vendor infrastructure but can also be developed for customer-facing applications
- Vendors can also capitalize on home AI and cybersecurity solutions to create services suitable for operators