How open source is shaping the home network

Open source already plays a big role in the home network. Most, if not all, home routers and networked devices, including IoT devices, in the home run some form of Linux. Many home routers are based on OpenWRT, an open source operating system based on Linux, but specifically designed for a router. And, Comcast has launched RDK-B as the open source operating system that powers all of its home routers. On the IoT front, Mozilla has open sourced an IoT gateway. So, why might the industry benefit from these projects? Here are a few reasons:

  • The reliance on open source versus proprietary firmware allows companies to focus on new and interesting innovations without having to continually reinvent core functionality.
  • Open source can lead to more router manufacturers’ opening their router firmware to running third-party applications, which is great for app developers and consumers.
  • Open source can lead to more secure and manageable network infrastructure.
  • Open source can lead to better interoperability between various devices.

With open source, developers can use API access and underlying code to create valuable applications that use the information and control available on the home router. Take the guest experience as an example: An application could link guest access to your Facebook friends, or limit guest access to when you are home, or limit guest access to certain devices on your network (e.g., your friend should be able to print to your printer but not see all your tax returns on your desktop computer.) Now, consider the video streaming experience: With full home network context, an application could detect when your streaming devices are buffering and adjust the network to make your video watching experience better.

Even though it is theoretically possible for all of these new and innovative applications to be provided by a single company in a monolithic firmware provided by the same company that manufactured your router, it is very unlikely. Very few companies build both hardware and software well. We know from the Android and iOS app stores that it is not possible for a single company to match the level of innovation fostered by an app ecosystem. The OpenWRT community is working on systems to allow third-party applications to securely and safely run on the router. By using this and fostering an app ecosystem, router manufacturers can drive preference for their hardware while delivering more value to their customers through third-party applications.

The home router is uniquely positioned to help consumers adopt and optimize their explosion of connected devices. Today, broadband homes have an average of nine devices on the Wi-Fi network. By 2020, this will be more than 20, including video and music streaming devices, personal assistants like Alexa and Google Home, security cameras, thermostats, smoke detectors, door locks, power plugs and adapters, lights and appliances. (Over 4,400 device makers exhibited at the CES show this year.) As the number of these devices connecting to the home Wi-Fi network increases, the complexity of managing and securing that network increases exponentially: A single device with a poor Wi-Fi signal could impact the performance of other devices on your network. Likewise, a single device downloading a software update from the internet could wreck your movie night or Monday night football. It’s time we grow an ecosystem of home router applications that talk to other elements in the network and make good decisions.

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