The app-enabled services gateway: a game-changer for service providers

John Blackford, Chairman of Broadband Forum and Engineering Fellow at CommScope

John Blackford, Chairman of Broadband Forum and Engineering Fellow at CommScope

66 percent of the world’s 7.9 billion people have access to and uses the internet. Last year, 306 billion emails were sent every day, which is expected to increase to 333.2 billion emails sent and received in 2022 according to Broadband Search. Every minute, Americans generate 3,138.42 GB of internet traffic.

Service providers are consequently facing an unprecedented amount of strain on their networks as the number of connected devices inside our homes increase and consumer bandwidth demands increase. Fixed networks will continue to play a crucial role in supporting the adoption and evolution of these new devices and applications.

During the global pandemic, when working from home became the new normal, there was a sudden and significant surge in internet traffic and usage as service providers focused on increasing network capacity. Analysys Mason reported that fixed data traffic grew by 42 percent worldwide during this period. This, combined with the need to deliver high-speed, unfailing, and robust connectivity, meant that home broadband capacity was pushed to its very limit. Daily high-bandwidth video calls and the use of streaming services required the full potential of the network. High-capacity connectivity is fundamental in meeting today’s accelerating need for high-speed symmetrical bandwidth, as well as the latency and reliability requirements of next-generation applications.

The changing service provider role, as it applies to consumers

These changes to our in-home habits have resulted in a greater adoption of connected home devices, such as voice-controlled appliances, home cameras, and smart doorbells. Service providers have had to react accordingly and manage the rising consumer demand and expectations to deliver cost-competitive and secure services. The proliferation of smart devices and subsequent bandwidth demand within the network, has presented a conundrum as to how service providers can more effectively manage and monitor these devices in the home as they play an even more central role in consumers’ smart homes.

The smart working dynamic has diversified the role of the consumer, with a residential user and business user (smart worker) utilising the same broadband access through the same Customer Premises Equipment (CPE). Therefore, it is no surprise that consumers have a need for improved network services and superior Wi-Fi performance. For service providers, the focus remains on keeping their businesses profitable by constantly seeking greater efficiency levels when it comes to their operational costs and business processes.

Service providers manage the subscriber network and are ideally placed to expand their subscriber base by offering a host of different consumer and business services. This can include e-health/e-learning, IoT applications, enhanced privacy and security, and employee home-working. That is why service providers have the opportunity to leverage their current broadband gateway to expand the application and services edge to the gateway and drive new services to the home network.

Smart Gateway: Smarter offerings

Networks are moving into a world where bandwidth is no longer the only consideration, instead the demand is shifting to improved network services and faster innovations. Equally, the adoption of faster access technologies opens new Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) opportunities for service providers. There is an immediate opportunity to leverage the potential of end-user network gateways such as Wi-Fi routers as a platform to unlock a myriad of third-party applications and services. This will serve both the needs of consumers and service providers. These end-user network gateways often serve as the central point for connectivity and network security inside the home.

Networks are moving into a world where bandwidth is no longer the only consideration, instead the demand is shifting to improved network services and faster innovations”

Service providers are continually looking for ways to better manage and monetize the connected home. Only by differentiating and scaling their business models will they be able to offer a more customized offering to each of their subscriber bases. By leveraging a centralized Internet gateway device or other CPE, service providers can effectively deploy, activate, and manage third party applications for consumers. This can include applications like parental controls, security solutions, streaming services and Wi-Fi analytics, but also high value services like Aging in Place and telemedicine solutions.

WT-492: The connected home salvation

Broadband Forum’s work pulls together those from multiple Standards Development Organizations and the open-source community to create quality, interoperable, and open standards. The Broadband Forum’s Broadband User Services (BUS) Work Area is well-known in the industry for developing interoperable and open standards, including its flagship protocol, the User Services Platform (USP/TR-369).The project team has already laid the foundations for the realization of a standardized, app-enabled services gateway.

Broadband Forum has launched its app-enabled services gateway project to revolutionize service providers’ business plans and enable a cloud to home edge containerized application and service delivery capability within the network devices and subscriber network. Its specification WT-492 ‘Software-Based Architecture for the App-Enabled Services Gateway - Design Principles’ arms stakeholders with the tools they need to unlock this secure, services-based app-enabled ecosystem for the end-user network. There is a key opportunity for “app-store-like” or “install on-demand” functionality for end-user services, the deployment of secure and trustworthy applications, and the formation of adaptable and powerful platforms to support a host of new and innovative cloud services.

With new features that separate traffic and applications to align to the diversified role of both business user and residential user, the gateways help reduce any exposure to possible malware attacks. Protection of the subscriber continues to be paramount and an inherent need when service providers are building out their networks, and an app-enabled services gateway can monitor and troubleshoot routines which support unloading bad applications and isolating ‘bad’ network devices. Connectivity can be extended through these gateways to all networked devices, including IoT devices. The gateways are hardened to cyber-attacks and robust to changes in next-generation technologies. Customer applications and data can also be upgraded and migrated on-demand.

Benefitting players across the industry

The enhanced functionality of an additional app-like service layer at the edge of the network will allow more control and better resilience for the industry and grow the choice and overall experience for customers. App-enabled services gateways will benefit a host of players across the industry including product developers, subscriber management solution suppliers, application suppliers, and service providers.

Product developers can adopt new design principles to introduce technologies and feature enhancements through simpler and faster cycles, as well as make efficient use of open-source gateway solutions. Subscriber management solution suppliers can easily deploy and manage vendors’ products, and application suppliers can unlock and build an ecosystem of value-added applications. The integration of services into daily operational workflows and the ability to serve all types of access technologies, are notable benefits for service providers.

Now is the time for different stakeholders to unite and collaborate to develop these standards that are scalable, address differing requirements, and unlock revenue-generating opportunities for the industry.