Parks Associates Blog

Monday, June 18, 2007

Notes from NXTComm June 18, 2007

Michael Cai and I will be at NXTComm in Chicago this week. You can catch us on some panels this week, including one I'm hosting tomorrow at the Telecommunications Magazine IP Video Village sessions. Michael will be moderating a panel on Thursday, June 21 titled Mobile WiMAX Devices - Cards, Handsets and More.

Today, I joined representatives from Calix, Motorola, Ruckus Wireless, Scientific-Atlanta (a Cisco Company), and TDS on an IEC panel titled In-Home Wiring and Home Entertainment Distribution. I thought it was interesting that the issue of customer support continues to be a recurring theme in these home networking sessions. Our own research - from the recently-released Digital Home Services: Carriers, Retailers, and the Consumer finds that broadband carrier support costs for home networking issues alone could reach $200 million annually by 2011 if carriers stay the current course and don't take steps to proactively address enhanced management, monitoring, and support requirements.

The good news is that the telecom industry (obviously profiled heavily at this show) has introduced several industry standards to address proactive monitoring and management. Chief among the standards are TR-069 and emerging working texts, including WT-111 and WT-135. The key theme from all the panelists today was increasing visibility for the service providers into what's actually happening inside the home network. To this end, they discussed such new needs as parameterized QoS (PQoS) and the ability to dynamically manage bandwidth, depending on the types of applications running into and through the home. Parameterized QoS is a model whereby bandwidth is reserved in an end-to-end fashion for high-throughput streams (such as HD video). We're starting to hear more about PQoS as implemented in the home network chipset, including last week's announcement from Entropic Communications (MoCA). One question that I'd like to ask the chipset vendors is whether a PQoS solution adds significant complexity (and therefore cost) to the final solution. I understand that there are varying views on the best way to implement quality-of-service for a broadband/IPTV network, including prioritized QoS.

The panelists are definitely open to the idea of including networked attached storage (NAS) devices as approved and manageable platforms on the home network. I was also struck with the notion that HomePNA3 is really making inroads into the service provider market (telcos, certainly). The panelists all expressed skepticism about powerline (at least as they know it today), and indicated that carriers may be more willing to support HomePNA because it may be lower cost and because it can be deployed over both coax and twisted-pair. However, Ruckus Wireless is being used by between 80-100 U.S. service providers (as indicated by Bob Payne, Ruckus' Vice President of Sales). Steve Mathesius at TDS indicated that the service provider has specifically chosen HomePNA as its network media of choice because cable service cannot run over it. Indeed, he said that TDS was implementing a "real showdown" with its cable competition and strongly locking customers in to its own service, using its choice of home networking as the key churn preventer. Now, that was an interesting perspective I hadn't heard before!

The panelists also said that they're not seeing powerline (HomePlug, UPA, HD-PLC) emerge as a required element in the home networking-related RFPs they're seeing from the service provider community, at least not in North America. We have suspected that the powerline solutions may be best aimed at markets such as Europe and Asia, where an in-home coax infrastructure is less likely to be found in as many households as here in North America. However, don't write off other home networking solutions in Europe. I learned that Swisscom is actually deploying a plastic optical fiber (POF) approach in some homes in Switzerland. The POF is thin and flexible enough to be threaded through the electrical conduits. It certainly is a good reminder that - in the home networking space - one cannot declare one technology over another as the true "winner." Service providers, CPE vendors, and consumers are all going to have different choices, based on such variables as the services being offered, the construction of a residential housing unit, and regulatory issues.

Finally, as we discussed the fact that the service providers are on the docket for a growing number of customer service support calls, Mathesius at TDS said that he doesn't mind that at all. In fact, he said that the support calls "keep TDS relevant." He believes that these calls can serve as the basis for an even stronger relationship with its customers, and even challenge Geek Squad in providing IT support services. I've got to tell you, this was the first time I'd actually heard a service provider embrace enhanced customer support, and it was an awfully refreshing comment!

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