Gary Gutknecht, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Technicolor, explains how broadband service providers are under increasing pressure to help customers manage in-home communications beyond the gateway.
In this interview he offers insights into how cloud computing, in conjunction with an open development environment on the gateway, will help service providers create opportunities for further differentiation by supporting applications and services delivered across gateways and the cloud.
Gutknecht: In recent years, there has been a lot of change. To meet the demand for higher speeds, service providers have had to make a lot of investments in their networks. As speeds have increased over the past few years so have the demands on manufacturers of the gateway devices that terminate the network infrastructure. They have had to incorporate increasingly advanced technologies on the wide area network side.
Meanwhile, on the local area network side, we have seen a very rapid progression through various stages of Wi-Fi connectivity: from single band devices to dual band devices; the advent of 801.11ac; increasingly complex antenna configurations to get better coverage in the home. All these have driven a product refresh cycle over the last couple of years.
At the same time we’ve seen the emergence of access point extenders to fill in some of the places around the home that are just not reachable no matter how powerful a Wi-Fi configuration the customer has.
All these things have been evolving over the last couple of years in parallel with each other but at different speeds. That has resulted in a proliferation of devices in our broadband roadmap.
Gutknecht: For sure. At the same time that we have seen improved coverage in the home, consumers are bringing more and more connected devices onto their home networks and more and more services are being consumed on those devices, all of which makes for a much more complex environment than the one we had a few years ago.
So, to maintain quality of service, management of the home environment has begun to take center stage with operators. They need to maintain customer satisfaction and keep their customer care costs to a minimum by being able to have an effective troubleshooting session when a customer calls in with a problem, or by being able to proactively avoid customers having to make those calls.
Gutknecht: Most definitely. Most service providers we talk to are wrestling with an explosion of customer care calls, with having to deal with the network in the home, beyond the gateway.
In years past they could brush off what was happening beyond the gateway as being the user’s responsibility. However, the world has become too competitive and too complex for the average user to self-diagnose.
So, in many cases network service providers are beginning to embrace the management of their customers’ home networks. They are almost being forced to deal with the customers’ in-home network problems.
Gutknecht: Data analytics about the service environment in the home is a very hot topic with our service provider customers. In some cases that data is readily available, so they are all trying to gather it into the cloud, and make sense of it.
They are all moving in that direction, but they need tools and services to help them get there. So there are a lot of opportunities to help them wade through that sea of data, apply data analytics and find the meaningful metrics.
Gutknecht: Cloud is an important element of most of the new services network operators are working on and that solution providers like Technicolor are working on. There are many reasons for this. First of all the uptime of the broadband service is getting better; the pipe is getting bigger and is generally always on.
In the past, network service providers might have been reluctant to send a lot of data to the cloud to do analysis. Today that is much more feasible because of the overall system uptime and because of the type of pipe we have to the home. Also service providers understand the need to iterate very quickly, to roll out changes very rapidly, or even to roll back changes very rapidly if a mistake is made.
What we see emerging today are a lot of services that are both local and cloud-based, with a lot of data being harvested locally and sent up to the cloud where the real hard core analysis is undertaken. The cloud is now an important element of every kind of new service being rolled out by most service providers.
Gutknecht: Yes, that is a trend we see in the gateway environment. For example, at Technicolor we spend a lot of energy around software solutions that are built upon OpenWRT [a Linux distribution embed in gateways and other devices] and other distributions like it.
That is a move to openness across the industry, and a lot of silicon providers that are looking to win spots within our broadband product line are also moving into OpenWRT distributions to help make the integration into our code base more seamless and to create more commonality across the industry.
However, we are still looking for meaningful application execution environments sitting on top of the traditional software stacks within the gateway, because that’s how we hope to attract a larger community of developers to create a wider range of services than have been available in the past and that can exist either on the devices or in the cloud.
There have been industry initiatives previously, but they have never really gotten the correct level of scale. You really need to bring together the right combination of technology, tools and scale and only now do we find ourselves on the brink of some breakthroughs in that area.
Gutknecht: We are pretty excited to be partnering with Amazon. They are extending the Amazon Web Services compute environment into the local gateway environment using the types of tools and technologies I mentioned earlier to create a meaningful application environment within the gateway.
We are excited to be hosting that application environment on our gateways. And of course with a partner like Amazon the elements I mentioned earlier — scale and tools — come along very nicely.
There are thousands of developers all around the world using the toolsets Amazon has deployed for cloud applications. They can use those tools, and we can leverage that scale, to create applications that harvest the resources in the gateway devices and in the cloud and that are even able to blend applications between the gateway and the cloud.
These developments bring together all the elements we have been waiting for. At Technicolor we have long believed these are what we need to achieve success. So we are really excited about this.
Gutknecht: I think these developments will enable a large community of developers to create innovative applications and services for consumers, delivered via their home gateway. Some of those we can already imagine today. It could be using conversational voice commands to configure gateway settings or to troubleshoot broadband service issues.
There will be other services the developer community will come up with that will take us by surprise and probably start to change some of the economics we have come to associate with the delivery of broadband services into the home. That’s what happens when you get a large community of developers.
Not only that, if you are a network service provider and you want to commission some services to be developed you may be a bit hesitant and uncertain as to how to split these between device and cloud. That will become easier. And it will be easier to go out and find third party companies or contract developers to deliver on those service visions, because the community exists.
Gutknecht: I think these developments will create a lot of options for service providers because, with things like Amazon’s Greengrass initiative [Greengrass is new technology from AWS that enables processing to be undertaken in peripheral devices like gateways, with support from and in conjunction with services running in AWS] they will be able to change the mix of where things are done.
They will be able to ‘place the cursor’ more flexibly between what is done at the edge of the network in the gateway and what is done in the cloud. This will help with privacy issues. It can also help them choose how to monetize new services that they might want to roll out.
Gutknecht: For sure. Speed will always be a necessary but not sufficient condition. You will always need it but just as important will be the services and applications that deliver quality of service and customer satisfaction: to improve stickiness and hopefully to drive new revenue opportunities. For example delivering very high-end analytics into the home and possibly being able to charge the user for that high level of service.
I think these will all be very important, and being able to leverage cloud and cloud technologies will help with service velocity which will also be very important.
We no longer live in a world where a new service can wait while two vendors spend 15 months developing it, whether that service is in the device or in the cloud. New application environments such as those we are creating with Greengrass will help enable that service velocity.