Monday, July 6, 2009

2Wire Follows up on Residential Gateways

As CONNECTIONS™ was originally designated as "The Residential Gateway Conference" in its inaugural year (1997), it's great to bring leaders in this space together every year for a refresh and a look ahead. This is exactly what we did in Santa Clara last month, with a panel titled Service Provider Home Networking Strategies: RGs and Services.

The residential gateway's role for telecom services has become better defined with each year, and the rollout of advanced broadband services, bundles, and telco/IPTV will continue to drive growth. From our recent report Home Networks for Consumer Electronics, we anticipate that residential gateawy deployments will grow from 36% in 2009 to 52% in 2013. The nature of residential gateway deployments among cable operators is a really interesting area to watch right now, with debate on both sides to the merit and need as of this point. However, it's clear that - at least for certain service providers - the reliance of advanced customer premise equipment in faciliating both consumer-facing and backend services and actions - is critical.

Jayant Dasari led a conversation at CONNECTIONS with a number of leading vendors. We have some follow-up responses to share from Jaime Fink, Vice President of Technology and Strategy at 2Wire.

Parks Associates: What are the key hardware and middleware components that need to fall into place for the RG to take on the role of media center in the home?

Jaime Fink: We see two clear gaps that need to be filled for the residential gateway to assume the role of media center in the home:

The first gap is the lack of clearly a defined home networking standard for distribution of media to fixed devices (TVs and STBs) and mobile devices. The race is on, with competition heating up between a variety of wired technologies – none of which have captured either retail or service provider acceptance in a unified fashion – and the increasingly popular wireless technologies. With recent advances in wired technologies like ITU, as well as the silicon advances in the 5GHz spectrum of wireless 802.11n by expanding up to 4x4 radio implementations, it appears that both wired and wireless technologies will benefit from significant improvements in the very near future. While it’s too early to call a winner in this race, it is safe to say, if the market continues moving toward support for connected TVs and DLNA devices, that wireless is the more desirable approach, especially in areas of the world where wiring quality remains substandard.

The second gap is the lack of a unified user experience for access to multiple content sources and next generation digital home applications. While DLNA has achieved some success in this area, it has not been fully embraced by the public, due to shortcomings in both user experience and legal accessibility of desirable content, including broadcast television, DVR, and over-the-top content. A new approach to user experience must be introduced – one that enables the home media hub to integrate all of these content sources and next generation applications into a single, consistent user experience for television, mobility, and digital home applications. It also means that an acceptable approach to DRM within the home must be established to prevent the various renderers (TVs/STBs, IP-connected Blu-Ray players, etc.) from implementing multiple divergent DRM techniques.

Parks Associates: What will be the major cost drivers? Is there an industry consensus on what the price point needs to be at in order to promote a wider acceptance of RG for all residential services?

Jaime Fink: In determining price points, consumer demand will play a larger role than production costs, as residential gateways and other CPE are typically subsidized by the service provider. However, the intention of gateway manufacturers such as 2Wire is to gradually add only incremental cost to the gateway as more processing power and home networking technologies are added. This will serve to keep the cost basis relatively competitive with other gateway technologies, while aligning today’s costs with tomorrow’s services.

It is important to note, however, that additional peripheral home products and technologies will likely be required, including a very large hard disk, and perhaps technologies such as Zigbee for home automation and home monitoring. Service providers are leaning toward requiring that consumers determine – and pay for – the size of hard disk that corresponds to the amount of storage they require, and this disk must be easily attachable to the gateway (via cable, snap-on SATA, or USB 3.0 connections). This modular approach to the hardware keeps the base gateway systems reasonably affordable, allowing them to be given away or largely subsidized, letting consumers add hardware features as needed to support desired applications and services.

Parks Associates: What are some of the concerns that operators have in deploying an RG that is capable of serving as a multi-service delivery platform?

Jaime Fink: The biggest concern seems to be the lack of a single standard that could be used to manage services. There are several management approaches and service architectures available (TR-069, OMA-DM, OSGi), but none provide a common approach that solves all the needs of the multi-service platform in the home. There are several efforts in standards bodies to align these approaches, facilitating the addition of new APIs to encourage the development of next generation services, but this will take some time to achieve. In the meantime, it is important to begin implementing solutions that prove the value proposition and ease-of-integration with the service provider’s architecture. Only by establishing such proof points can we promise a true turnkey solution that enables services and content from any source in the service provider’s architecture.

Parks Associates: What value added services do you envision the service providers introducing via an RG in the next 12-18 months?

Jaime Fink: The initial demand is for a whole-home storage and backup solution for multiple PCs in the home, including ‘super-backup’ of the most valuable content to a secured Internet-based storage disk. Additionally, there is strong demand for home monitoring solutions, including a variety of camera and other ‘lifestyle’ sensors which provide peace of mind and limit damage in emergencies.

Parks Associates: Will embedded storage be an important component in RGs?

Jaime Fink: YES! The residential gateway is ideally positioned for embedded storage, as it is the center of the home network, accessible to every device, with typically fast link speeds with each device. With cloud-based storage, average users are limited by very slow uplink speeds – sometimes upwards of two months! By contrast, in-home networked storage provides superior speed and user experience, and can even help organize the user’s media library. In the future, as IPTV and IP-connected televisions increase in popularity, the home network storage disk will be the logical solution for caching VoD content and live broadcast TV for availability to all the television sets in the home.

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