Diego Gastaldi, Senior Vice President for Business Development with Technicolor Connected Home, says the technology of home gateways is undergoing a paradigm shift to tap the power of the cloud for greater flexibility and functionality.
He then explains how Technicolor is working with Amazon Web Services to exploit the new paradigm, and reveals some details of how it will change gateways and the services they support.
Gastaldi: This is a very new paradigm. Until now all the services that service provider rolled out were attached to a piece of hardware, and that piece of hardware needed to be designed from day one to deliver a very specific service. Memory, processing power, ports in and ports out all had to be specified and the application had to be embedded in the device.
So, everything had to be done and installed before the product could be rolled out. All that work delayed the introduction of the product, and once the product had been rolled out very little innovation around the device was possible after this.
What we are looking at doing now is to introduce a layer that abstracts the services from the underlying hardware. The gateway is then connected to the cloud so that functions stored in the cloud can be downloaded and executed in the gateway.
This flips the model completely. Now you can launch a platform and all you have to worry about is that it is capable of downloading and executing the functions stored in the cloud.
This makes it possible for new services to be created dynamically in the cloud even after the devices is deployed and installed in the home. It means you have an almost unlimited portfolio of services that you can create and roll out by taking advantage of the processing power and storage capacity of the cloud.
All you have to worry about is having sufficient throughput into the gateway and basic functionality – processing power and memory – in the gateway.
Instead of having to develop everything upfront so that a new product is complete before you launch it, you just launch a platform, and let services be developed elsewhere so that they can then just be downloaded onto the device. It is a very new way of looking at things, but the potential is unlimited.
Gastaldi: There is a handful of major cloud vendors. You hear about Microsoft, Google and Amazon all the time, but there are more. We have been working with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) team. They have a very strong presence in the market. Many of our customers already use them for their own cloud needs.
What AWS has done is to put the functions used to communicate with their cloud infrastructure onto a piece of software that can be loaded onto a gateway.
That software was announced in their Reinvent conference in late 2016 and is called Greengrass. Think of it as a layer that sits on top of the hardware and the operating system that runs the gateway. It lets you dynamically execute functions in the cloud using AWS Lambda, which lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers.
Because AWS is so strong in the market there are many developers creating content for that infrastructure and those same developers can bring services onto the platform.
Technicolor has started working with Amazon. We have a very strong partnership and we are developing opportunities together.
Gastaldi: There are no published numbers but there were between 35,000 and 40,000 people at the Reinvent conference and they were all users and developers of AWS cloud...and the energy during the event was incredibly powerful.
During that event, there were demonstrations of applications – one even by The Jet Propulsion Lab – showing how things could be done on a robot sitting on another planet. So, the applications are endless, the developer community is massive and the opportunities for service providers are extremely interesting.
Gastaldi: We are making a slight distinction on the definition of service provider. As soon as we start introducing these kinds of platforms we will be talking to a different set of service providers from the traditional telcos and cable providers.
Those new service providers could be providers of insurance, or medical devices, etc. They can all be targets for this type of platform.
In the case of the network service providers with whom we already have relationships, Technicolor and the AWS team are presenting the new open gateway initiative as a way to offer next generation of services to the home.
Specifically, Technicolor is bringing out a new and extremely powerful gateway with phenomenal throughput...we are looking at it having Wi-Fi that can deliver 10 gigabits per second...and that is equipped with a very powerful processor and sufficient memory to do everything we want with AWS’ Greengrass.
In addition to that, we are introducing remote devices we call extenders that will enable Wi-Fi to be pushed deeper into the home. We have even created a table lamp that incorporates a Wi-Fi extender.
We are also adding voice infrastructure, leveraging the work that is being done by the Amazon Voice Services group – which is marketed under the name of “Alexa.” We are bringing that Alexa functionality onto the gateway to enable people to communicate easily with the devices to help with set up and trouble shooting.
Right now, we are focused on lowering the Opex cost of deployment by making it easy for the consumer to self-install. There will be an assistant that will walk them through the process.
We’re also working to avoid having the customer contact the call center just because something is not working properly; to having the problem triaged before they call in. Instead of it being a problem call it becomes a solution call, because the service provider knows in advance what is going on the home.
Beyond network service providers, we are exploring with AWS which vertical industries could use this platform. One could be insurance, another could be medical.
In the home of an elderly person you could have a couple of sensors in things they use regularly, extract data from those, and use Greengrass to export that data to the cloud and do analytics to establish patterns and take action if something changes. That is in addition to monitoring medical devices like blood pressure meters, oxygen meters, etc.
There is a lot of intelligence that can be deployed outside the home so that action can be taken based on indicators that might suggest all is not normal in the home.
We are working very closely with the Amazon team, making sure we capitalize on the relationships they have with some of our customers and with some of the verticals. It is a great combination and I think we are doing great things together.
Gastaldi: Every time you have a new disruptive way of doing things there is always an internal process to go from understanding, to wanting, to doing.
We are walking that continuum with our customers. They are all at different phases of development but we have been telling them all ‘this is what is possible’ and ‘let’s see, in your particular situation, what are the services you have, what are the services you want, what are the pain points, and how can this technology address those.’
We are always looking for the intersection of a business problem with a technical solution. We don’t want to push technology for technology’s sake. We want to understand what keeps our customers awake at night and how we can use technology to make their lives better. If we succeed at that then the selling process is easy.
That process is different depending on the customer we are dealing with, but almost unequivocally our customers are facing challenges with Wi-Fi throughput and coverage and with the quality of the experience within the home.
So, in the short term we are using this product to address those issues. We are putting analytics in the cloud to understand what is going on with the Wi-Fi network in terms of signal strength and coverage and to make recommendations such as ‘you may need another extender on the second floor,’ or ‘you are having a bad experience because your computer has got a virus and is streaming content.’
Then we are looking at what other services can be introduced beyond those. We are working with a couple of verticals and determining what we can do to leverage other companies’ relationships with the consumer and at how the technology can augment their services.
That could be an application running on a gateway deployed by a service provider, or it could be a custom-built device for a complete portfolio of services that an insurance company might want to bring in.
Our fundamental principle is that, even though we are a technology company our role is to solve business problems for our customers.