With the advent of IoT, broadband service providers are feeling increasing pressure from consumers to integrate the concept of the smart home, new security challenges and new cloud-based business models into a superior broadband experience, as well as a compelling business strategy for themselves. As if this wasn’t a big enough challenge, at the same time they are engaged in a war for the heart and wallet of consumers with powerful new competitors — in many cases global consumer electronics firms — for control of the connected home.
Changing consumer expectations and requirements are key contributors to this aforementioned pressure. Service providers are striving to find a way to provide faster and better-quality broadband experiences to meet and exceed those expectations. However, it’s not all bad news for service providers — the emergence of the connected home lets us rethink how the broadband experience is delivered to the consumer and measured by the service provider.
This, in turn, presents a great opportunity for both differentiation and new revenue sources. To that end, service providers must find ways to provide services to and monetizing the connected home. Arming them for the battle is Broadband Forum’s User Services Platform (USP).
An evolving ecosystem
With the accelerating mass proliferation of broadband-ready IoT devices, how these devices can be managed, monitored and upgraded is the source of multiple headaches for service providers.
Service providers realized early on that managing the expectations of these devices would require proactive management of the home network, starting with the residential gateway, set-top-boxes and other devices and applications which are critical to the customers’ experience. Fast-forward to today and the broadband ecosystem has once again evolved; service providers are desperately looking for a way to not only support the IoT space, but to monetize it.
In doing so, service providers face many challenges. In light of the ever-changing ecosystem, consumers are increasingly turning to their broadband service providers for customer support on device-related issues when trying to set up or manage their smart home devices. Operators are being held responsible for poor device and application performance by their customers because they perceive the integration of devices, applications and internet service as part of their overall broadband experience. This comes down to the fact that consumers often do not differentiate between the Wi-Fi and the internet — despite the reality that many consumers buy their Wi-Fi equipment independently of their service provider.
While it may be hard to see beyond the wall of challenges that are built up against them, service providers are actually in a unique position to offer a unified smart home service.
Turning challenges into opportunities
As the broadband home router is standard equipment for any subscriber, it serves as a central point for connectivity and network security in the home. This means that service providers can act as a centralized service center that manages other services with a single point for billing and customer support, simplifying a complex environment for the end user which can, in turn, improve users’ experience.
Furthermore, service providers have the technical expertise for installation and troubleshooting — often more than consumer electronics manufacturers themselves — as they have a direct touchpoint to the consumer’s home network in addition to the consumer’s internet connection.
Though challenging, Wi-Fi connectivity and the promise of the smart home presents a great opportunity for service providers to offer premium services, such as network security monitoring, IoT onboarding and support, Wi-Fi quality management, or parental/content controls that are self-branded or facilitated by a third-party service.
Monetizing the connected home: The race is on
While the benefits of delivering a better experience to the consumer is clear, how service providers can do so cost-effectively while planning ahead is not so clear. The journey to the connected home requires service providers to take more than one path and involves the combination of using the right technologies, enabling the right broadband ecosystem and delivering the services with an agility that meets or exceeds customer expectations. And if this isn’t enough, they must also achieve this as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible.
However, it’s not just service providers who are feeling the heat — consumer electronics manufacturers are building their own proprietary offerings — or even pre-standard versions of standardized systems — in a bid to capture ownership of the connected home. While this is understandable given the massive pressure generated by the promise of monetizing the connected home, adopting such systems has the potential to result in a stunted ecosystem. In this scenario, service providers will become dependent on a very limited, or even vertical, ecosystem.
The security of these technologies is an ongoing concern. Many smart devices, home gateways and Wi-Fi products on the market today have serious security flaws that are being targeted by malicious attackers and are leaving service providers exposed.
Without the basis of interoperability, these systems are often incompatible with service providers’ existing equipment. Service providers have made significant investments not only in their installed base of customer premises equipment, but also in their operations support systems and business support systems that manage the infrastructure and operation of their network and subscribers. If they are to capture the connected home market and do so without breaking the bank, it is crucial that they are able to seamlessly migrate — or evolve — these systems as transitions are made.
Furthermore, as the technologies behind Wi-Fi and whole-home connectivity, as well as the smart home and IoT, constantly evolve, more challenges and opportunities in monetizing the connected home are rising. That is why it is critical that when seeking systems, service providers think ahead and choose ones that meet the criteria for being future-proof.
One strategy — Broadband Forum’s USP — stands above the others in providing a comprehensive long-term option that balances the needs of the customer and the service provider. And with USP, created as the evolution of TR-069, it uses the investments service providers have made in the over 1 billion broadband installations that already exist.
On the cUSP of the connected home
Designed to tackle these problems head-on, service providers and managed device manufacturers have come together to develop USP, also known as Broadband Forum standard TR-369. As the natural evolution of TR-069, USP addresses the explosion of connected devices, providing a unified, common approach to deploying, controlling and managing Wi-Fi, application-enabled gateways, smart home and IoT devices and more.
Providing the flexibility, security and scalability service providers and consumer electronics manufacturers need to manage connected devices, carry out software upgrades, apply critical security patches and onboard new devices, USP meets the demands of the connected home both now and in the future.
Accelerating this journey, Broadband Forum has developed a new open source agent to facilitate faster time to market of connected home services. The Open Broadband USP Agent (OB-USP-Agent) gives vendors a code base that they can either integrate into their devices or use as a reference implementation. OB-USP-Agent facilitates USP deployment and enables faster time to market for USP-based technologies. Additionally, as a standards-based option, OB-USP-Agent gives service providers the confidence to carry out large-scale deployments, eliminating the risk of vendor lock-in.
By combining the best of standards-based deployments with the latest software developments, OB-USP-Agent opens up the possibilities of the connected home by providing a system which the entire broadband industry can utilize and benefit from. Furthermore, service providers will have the tools at their disposal to deliver a future-proof connected home experience that will not only enhance consumers’ day-to-day lives, but create additional revenue streams.
USP also gives providers the edge they need to compete against over-the-top services, opening the door to new use cases, such as Wi-Fi management, network security, parental control, home security, home automation and a host of other services, that can all be enabled with a system of USP agents and controllers. Service providers can also provide a better customer experience with the development of smartphone apps that act as USP controllers, allowing end users to troubleshoot their own networks to drastically reduce support calls, as well as provide a secondary channel for data collection.
Facing the future head on
Although other options exist right now for meeting the short-term needs of service providers, these technologies fall short of providing a future-proof system for realizing the promise of the connected home of tomorrow.
No matter the challenges that service providers face, such as reducing costs, improving customer support or differentiating themselves to consumers, USP was designed and developed specifically as the savior which could meet these difficult challenges and empower network service providers, application providers and consumer electronics manufacturers alike in the connected home age.
USP provides a platform for successfully mastering the connected home. In arming service providers by providing them the peace of mind to efficiently address the challenges of the future head on, they can meet the demands of the connected user today, and tomorrow.
For more information and videos about Broadband Forum’s views on the connected home and the role of USP, click here.
To get started using USP as a standardized protocol to manage, monitor, update and control connected devices, services, and home networks, visit here.
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