As the home continues to emerge as the center of consumers’ digital lives — supporting their professional, personal, health and educational priorities — the role of customer premises equipment (CPE) is also evolving.
Once limited to enabling connectivity for the delivery of entertainment — and primarily video content services — the CPE provided to homes by network service providers (NSPs) now supports critical functions. As a result, consumers and NSPs alike expect significant improvements in performance, adaptability, intelligence and security offered by the next generation of gateways and set-top boxes.
We sat down with Ashwani Saigal, vice president of broadband at VANTIVA (formerly known as Technicolor) to learn more about the evolving role of CPEs in the connected-home environment.
Here is what he had to say:
Q: How are network service provider strategies for customer premises equipment evolving?
Ashwani Saigal: It has been interesting to see how the events of the past few years have changed the fundamental relationships that network service providers (NSPs) have with consumers. Prior to March 2020, broadband connections to the home were largely considered a luxury that enabled people to enjoy entertainment-focused experiences. For the most part, people viewed the experience — and calibrated their expectations — through the lens of “best-effort” connectivity. If poor connections disrupted a signal, it may have been irritating, but it was not considered a critical failure.
The global pandemic changed all of that as workers were told to shelter in place while remaining productive and students struggled to keep up with their studies from home. As the situation evolved it became clear that best effort was not good enough. Expectations for NSP performance were raised, and with it so were the standards of performance that the CPE ecosystem was expected to meet.
Today, an ever-increasing number of people are working, learning, connecting with family and even taking medical appointments from home. As a result, broadband connectivity — a key component in the CPE puzzle — has evolved as an essential home service. Consistent, high-performance broadband access is now considered a critical utility — like water and electricity.
As a result, consumer expectations around CPE capabilities and reliability are extremely high.
Q: Have these developments affected how NSPs develop and execute their CPE strategies?
Saigal: Absolutely. Operators are shifting their CPE strategies to meet evolving consumer expectations. Speed, reliability, efficiency and the ability to manage multiple services on one device are now key considerations when operators make strategic decisions about CPE design and the array of services they will offer.
The events of the past few years have also added nuance to how the connected home market is tiered. As the so-called “new normal” begins to take shape, we are seeing basic requirements for connectivity rise. We are also seeing demand for an array of optional services that can be delivered to households that have different needs or desires.
For instance, as people return to the office, they may retain some enhanced services utilized during the pandemic and stop using others. The bottom line is that people are landing across a spectrum of service requirements that have to be supported by NSP infrastructure and in-home CPE. This segmentation complicates CPE strategies because operators are forced to look at how devices can address all tiers in their market in a technically effective and cost-efficient manner.
Further exacerbating this equation is the fact that home experiences are becoming a lot more complex. Home consumption is no longer mostly entertainment-based. The evolution of smart homes means that “intelligent devices” and “home automation” now compete for bandwidth with entertainment services, work-related zoom meetings, and home learning. NSPs/operators must be able to manage a diverse array of digital traffic.
All of this is putting immense pressure on home wireless networks. As a result, Wi-Fi is evolving as a key factor in delivering services that meet the needs of consumers.
The problem is that Wi-Fi radio spectrum is a shared — and scarce — medium. To ensure high quality of service (QoS) there has to be a mechanism for prioritizing the allocation of wireless resources.
Addressing the rising complexity of in-home experiences requires more sophisticated CPE devices. As services and solutions expand, operators are looking for uniformity in their offerings. This is making the business case for developing and deploying CPE devices that are more powerful, more intelligent and more open. It is emerging as the key to maintaining existing services while introducing new innovative offerings.
Q: How is CPE optimization delivering higher levels of value to connected home environments?
Saigal: There are three areas of focus that NSPs are applying when it comes to developing CPE strategies that are designed to ensure the delivery of higher value to connected home environments.
- Consolidation: Operators are looking for ways to consolidate services and supply devices. This means pursuing multi-purpose device strategies rather than single-function appliances. VANTIVA has been working with NSPs to harness open systems and industry standards to create platform technologies that can accommodate a wide range of applications from different players in the technology partner community. We are designing CPE that allow partner apps to be remotely downloaded by consumers, or pushed to subscribers by NSPs.
- Security: Because the connected home is no longer solely about delivering entertainment-based content, security — which has always been important — is now being elevated to a higher priority. Personal data, corporate information, banking data — and even automated cameras, sensors and locks — are being managed through CPE devices. With this amount and variety of data flowing through CPE, security is critical.
- Ease of Use: As the connected home environment becomes more complex, it is absolutely essential to ensure that devices, applications and services are intuitive. This is easier said than done. VANTIVA has captured statistics that show significant spikes in calls to NSP contact centers between Christmas and New Year.
What is interesting is that most of these calls are unrelated to network performance issues. People are calling in for help in connecting new devices received as gifts to their home networks. These are rarely devices offered — or managed — by NSPs. It demonstrates the evolving role of NSPs in helping consumers manage their digital lives.
VANTIVA has developed solutions such as Wi-Fi protected set-up (WPS) and intelligent pairing of Wi-Fi-enabled devices to make the onboarding of devices easy with the goal of reducing the number of inbound calls to contact centers.
Q: What can people expect to see from VANTIVA as we move through the rest of the decade?
Saigal: VANTIVA will continue to focus on providing best-in-class CPE devices for NSPs. Our position as a global leader in both broadband and Android TV CPEs is recognized around the globe, and we look forward to building on that leadership through investments in innovative CPE design, Wi-Fi propagation and other emerging next-generation capabilities.
We will also expand our position as a market-leading provider of software ecosystems — such as RDK-B and OpenWrt. New investments in these two software solutions will enhance user experiences and introduce a wide array of new services for personal, corporate and professional consumption.
Last but not least, VANTIVA will continue to develop value-added solutions for the emerging dimensions of the broadband world — including, but not limited to 5G, fixed wireless access (FWA) and IoT.
Listen to the full interview with Vantiva’s Ashwani Saigal: