As we approach the one-year milestone of the global response to COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize how network service providers (NSPs) around the world have risen to the challenge of keeping consumers connected to critical professional and personal resources in a cost-effective manner.
Despite the huge spike in persistent demand for broadband connectivity, service levels have largely been maintained, with most subscribers expressing high levels of satisfaction with their providers.
“Beyond connectivity, however, the NSPs around the world have delivered new value-added services by leveraging the deployment of more open and intelligent customer premises equipment (CPE) at both the gateway and set-top box levels. Participants in Technicolor’s HERO Partnership Program have played a significant role in helping NSPs introduce new value propositions to consumers through this difficult period of time,” says Girish Naganathan, Chief Technology Officer at Technicolor Connected Home.
To provide perspective on how the industry continued to innovate despite marketplace disruptions related to the pandemic, Technicolor asked members of the HERO Program to offer a review of trends established in 2020, and a forecast of what is likely to emerge over the course of 2021 and beyond.
Airties Ensures High Quality Connectivity Throughout the Home
The pandemic has made reliable, fast home Wi-Fi more critical than ever, with the rise in remote working and learning, telehealth, home entertainment, and more according to Bart Vercammen, EVP & GM Software Product Line, at Airties (www.airties.com), the leading provider of Smart Wi-Fi solutions for service providers.
“Network service providers played a central role in keeping everyone connected and productive within the home throughout 2020. As a result, we have seen—and expect to continue to see—accelerated adoption of Smart Wi-Fi solutions that deliver value in three key areas: 1) the usage of cloud management platforms that dynamically optimize individual home networks, providing remote diagnostics and proactive troubleshooting; 2) upgrades to field-deployed gateways with Smart Wi-Fi software that intelligently directs consumers’ devices to the best bands and channels based on real-time network conditions; and 3) the roll-out of Wi-Fi 6 devices, gateways and extenders to support the growing density of connected devices, delivering faster speeds, lower latency, and reduced interference,” says Vercammen.
Smart Wi-Fi software and cloud management platform service from Airties continued to be more tightly integrated with Technicolor gateways that were deployed by NSPs to connected homes around the globe over the course of 2020. This has empowered NSPs to provide the best possible home Wi-Fi experience to subscribers.
“During 2020, we worked hard to meet the accelerated demand of our joint NSP customers. Despite the challenges of the past year, we delivered the latest innovations and services to existing clients, while collaborating to expand the delivery of our joint value-proposition to new NSP customers,” says Vercammen.
Broadpeak Takes High Quality Streaming Experiences To Next Level
The impressive growth of OTT streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney in 2020, clearly signals to NSP that mastering the effective delivery of video streaming is no longer a nice-to-have capability; it is a critical customer satisfaction requirement. So says Dominique Colombel, Chief Technical Officer, of Cesson-Sevigne, France’s Broadpeak (https://broadpeak.tv), the leading designer and manufacturer of video delivery components.
Streaming has clearly become a reference use case and all NSPs offering video services are now accelerating their streaming projects with HTTP adaptive bitrate (ABR) technology.
“Following the adoption of ABR for the video-on-demand (VOD) services over the last few years, we are now logically seeing ABR replacing legacy broadcast technologies, IPTV or QAM, for linear channels. To do that, NSPs are deploying Multicast ABR technology on their CPE. M-ABR is combining the versatility of the ABR video with the scalability of the multicast transport for a high-quality video distribution to any screen in the home,” says Colombel.
Over the course of 2020, Broadpeak worked with Technicolor Connected Home on a range of M-ABR projects. The framework designed by Technicolor allows a third-party application — like Broadpeak’s M-ABR nanoCDN™ software agent — to be easily hosted by the CPE.
“This reduces the time it takes to bring NSP video offerings to market by simplifying the integration. The result is a Broadpeak M-ABR implementation that is extremely easy to demonstrate, launch and operate: M-ABR is seen by the NSP as a safe functionality to add, even onto existing production systems. In 2020 we have added this M-ABR capability for operators with over three million CPEs,” explains Colombel.
CUJO AI Secures Connected Homes Around the World
Home networks became a high-value target for bad actors over the course of 2020. Working from home prompted many hackers to look for security gaps that could be exploited to capture sensitive personal and professional information.
“If we use January 2020 as a baseline, there wasn’t a month during last year when there were fewer remote access attempts. We attribute the increase of malicious activities to the pandemic forcing many people to work from home. These attacks use brute force, port scanning and other techniques against home networks,” explains Santeri Kangas, CTO for CUJO AI (www.cujo.com), a security service provider headquartered in El Segundo, California that has introduced advanced connected device identification, real-time network security, privacy protection, content access control and digital monitoring via Technicolor Connected Home CPE.
Traditionally, home networking equipment has not been compliant with even the most basic security standards applied to most business operations. The remote access protection models that were deployed by CUJO AI on Technicolor Connected Home gateways, blocked hundreds of billions of remote access attempts on home networks throughout 2020.
“CUJO AI successfully protected users from millions of attempts each month to explore their home network vulnerabilities. Our close cooperation with Technicolor enabled us to develop and deploy security measures on their gateways quickly and at scale, which are two essential challenges for gateway security technology,” says Kangas.
Hoppr Opens The Door to High-Margin Revenues for NSPs Through Programmatic Advertising
With people working, studying and enjoying entertainment services at home as the result of shelter-in-place restrictions, many households around the world have signed up for a record number of online services, including streaming video and online gaming.
“This has elevated the amount of time that consumers spend navigating option menus to determine what to do next. As a result, there is a major opportunity for NSPs to deliver programmatic advertising that provides targeted messages to consumers without interrupting video or gaming experiences,” according to Cyril Daoud, CEO for Hoppr (www.hoppr.com.au), an Australia-based advertising innovator that connects NSPs, advertising agencies and brands through analytics and targeting capabilities.
As NSPs look for new ways to monetize their presence in the home, Hoppr has worked with Technicolor Connected Home to integrate CPE-based programmatic advertising capabilities at little to no cost to operators. Hoppr has also developed a comprehensive set of relationships with advertising agencies and brand managers who want to deliver digital marketing messages to connected home audiences in a highly tailored and targeted manner.
“2021 will be the year of programmatic advertising to home subscribers via CPE. Consumers who have experienced digital marketing on their smartphones and tablets for years are prepared to receive relevant and engaging promotional communications on their big screen at home. This will unleash a new stream of high-margin/low effort revenue that will significantly strengthen the balance sheets of NSPs around the world,” says Daoud.
Plume Maintains Quality of Experience Through Pandemic Spike
As the pandemic caused daytime network usage within Plume-powered connected homes to spike by over 120%, with weekday computer usage up 197%, and evening computer use up by 69%, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) powered by Plume (www.plume.com) were able to maintain and even exceed, pre-pandemic quality of experience to ensure that subscribers received the very best experience on every device and application.
“By analyzing data from our cloud platform, Plume was able to gain unique insights into the accelerated shift in consumer habits. The result: happy customers and reduced churn,” says Todd Grantham, CMO for Plume, the Silicon Valley-based global provider of intelligent Smart Home Services and SaaS experience management for service providers.
In 2021 Plume predicts that consumers’ need for increased service personalization will only increase along with the demand for smart home applications and devices in the work-from-home era.
“The good news is that Technicolor Connected Home and Plume are in a position to help CSPs meet those changing needs and exceed consumer expectations,” Grantham says.
Real VNC Enables High Quality Contactless Support in Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic elevated contactless support capabilities to an entirely new level in 2020 as NSPs began to focus on end-user education, and guidance with self-install, alongside the existing push to reduce “truck rolls” and device churn.
“NSPs were already striving towards 100% digital interaction with their customers prior to the crisis. What we learned over the past year is that subscribers are more open than ever to online support because it’s become the usual way of doing things,” says Adam Greenwood-Byrne, CEO of Cambridge UK-based RealVNC (www.realvnc.com), a leading provider of remote access solutions, helping some of the biggest companies in the world to connect people and devices.
“Self-service,” explains Greenwood-Byrne, “is extremely important today, when residents are wary of allowing people into their homes. That said, people like to interact with other people, so NSPs must not lose sight of human contact in the drive for automation.”
“Efficiency doesn’t have to be at the expense of customer satisfaction. Having the correct tool to troubleshoot a customer problem can lead to a shorter call as well as a jump in customer satisfaction, especially when the process reduces frustration on both sides. In 2020, we saw an increase in the number of companies using our tools to support people, in addition to the usual maintenance and support of hardware devices in the field,” says Greenwood-Byrne.
Real VNC is working with Technicolor Connected Home to address a set of key issues that have trended in 2020.
“Customer Support Representatives (CSRs) were asked to work from home and were able to use our easily deployed, standalone applications and cloud services across all kinds of network connection without user configuration or interruption. We also saw more examples of our software being used away from NSP customer care centers. Engineering teams fault-finding or helping subscribers during installation were no longer allowed in customer homes. They made use of remote access to be at arm’s length while still interacting with customers in real time,” says Greenwood-Byrne.