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The November 7, 2005 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Managing the Triple Play - An Interview with Netopia

Telephone companies worldwide are deploying the "triple play": voice, data and video services for the home. As they move to IPTV, they need to manage many types of devices in the home--residential gateways and set-top boxes today, more tomorrow. Some are starting to deploy standards-based systems to support consumer networks.

Over the past few years, the DSL Forum has released a series of specifications for many elements of advanced broadband networks--we covered some of those last year in DSL Forum -- New Specs to Beat Cable (BBHR 9/15/2004). At the time, we asked how quickly telcos would embrace a standards-based approach.

A few weeks ago, we heard that BellSouth had licensed the NBBS server software platform from Netopia to manage its broadband CPE. To learn more about how telcos will manage the triple play, we set up a phone call with Netopia's Jeff Porter (VP of product marketing) and Jim Holden (CTO).

Netopia is one of several companies providing both residential gateways and central servers conforming with the DSL Forum's TR-069 specification, which creates a framework for centralized provisioning and management of consumer CPE. Netopia is using this framework to build a growing suite of management applications to improve operational efficiency and add revenue for service providers.

Managing the Network With TR-069

As we discussed in our earlier article, DSL Forum specification TR-068: Dual Port ADSL Router (DSL Gateway) (recently updated to version 2) defines a residential gateway device "down to the location, labeling and color of the front panel lights and the color of the ports on the rear."

A complementary specification TR-069: CPE WAN Management Protocol (May 2004) defines the protocols for communications between a centralized Auto-Configuration Server (ACS) and the home CPE. It also defines both required and optional parameters for the residential gateway, and provides for extension to other devices in the home.

TR-069 does not specify how the server uses these parameters to automate configuration and management of the CPE. Individual vendors can create ACS applications on top of the specification, with the assurance that different vendor's CPE will respond in the same way.

Reducing Costs, Increasing Revenue

Netopia Broadband Server --> Click for larger pictureThe Netopia Broadband Server (NBBS) is an example of a TR-069-compliant ACS. Its core is the Broadband Server Platform; around the core, Netopia provides a growing suite of applications for broadband service providers.

Three of these applications help broadband service providers control their operating expenses:

  • The Element Management System (EMS) is a device management and service provisioning platform which supports TR-069 devices and older devices using other protocols.
  • The Zero-Touch Manager is a management platform for automated service activation and subscriber self-provisioning.
  • Support Visibility provides the support staff with a view of the subscriber network and attached devices for troubleshooting and problem resolution; an optional module gives support staff the ability to remotely control subscriber PCs.

Three more applications are designed to increase service provider revenue:

  • Subscriber Visibility gives subscribers remote access to their local area network (LAN), so that subscribers can remotely view and control any Web-enabled networked device on their LAN.
  • Parental Controls--operating in the residential gateway and managed by NBBS--gives parents the ability to control how and when their children can use the Internet for computers, PDAs and game consoles.
  • Netopia Hot Spot provides a complete package for a hot spot.

Jeff and Jim told us that "EMS and Zero Touch are completely agnostic to CPE", supporting other vendor's equipment as well as Netopia's. The other applications require "an agent on the gateway" and they said Netopia would license their agent for use in other vendor's equipment.

They said the Hot Spot application has a "venue centric view"--it's intended for individual venues, not for Metro Wi-Fi. Netopia sees hot spots as a "venue amenity" rather than a revenue generator. As an example, a restaurant pays a monthly fee to a service provider and can decide whether to provide the hot spot for free "or only for customers who buy two pizzas."

VoIP Devices, Settop Boxes and Smart Refrigerators

Residential gateways already support a wide variety of networking technologies: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, existing phonelines, power lines and coaxial cable. Many devices will connect to these networks: PCs, game consoles and digital set-top boxes today, VoIP devices and many more tomorrow. The service provider needs to support these devices -- certainly those it provides and possibly also those purchased by the end user.

TR-069 provides a standards-based approach for remote device management. In September, DSL Forum released several further specifications based on TR-069, including TR-104 Provisioning Parameters for VoIP CPE for networked VoIP devices in the home. IPTV set-top boxes will use TR-069.

Netopia said TR-069 could be extended to other devices in the home without adding much cost. "TR069 puts remote device management out into devices connected behind the gateway. We could put a a 10K chip into a smart Amana refrigerator" so the service provider could manage it remotely.

Moving the Telcos "Maginot Line" Inside the Home

TR-069 makes it possible for service providers like BellSouth to assume an important role in supporting customer CPE, which they are de facto doing anyway. Taking it on formally could result in new revenue and/or reduced expense.

In the old telco mentality, there was a firm demarcation point and anything beyond it was the customer's responsibility. In today's world, when a customer calls to report a DSL problem, it may in fact really be a failure in the customer-provided hardware or software. With TR-069 in place throughout the home network, the service provider will have tools to isolate the fault and also the capability to download or reset parameters in the associated software.

Testing Interoperability

It's one thing to write specifications, quite another to prove interoperability between products from different vendors. CableLabs long ago recognized that it would have to provide the testing and certification of devices built to its published specifications, and has done so very successfully for the cable industry. Although DSL Forum does not have a charter to provide certification, it does sponsor interoperability events.

Last month, seventeen vendors participated in the first DSL Forum TR-069 Interoperability Test Event, held at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab. Participants conducted a "plugfest" connecting together a wide variety of ACS servers, gateways, routers and VoIP devices. Short of formal certification testing, this is a time-honored way to shake out the bugs between various vendor's interpretations of specs. The many participants--including equipment vendors (2Wire, Alcatel, Cisco, Netgear, Netopia) and chip companies (Broadcom, Conexant, TI)--indicate that TR-069 is catching on fast.

For More Information

  • Our article DSL Forum -- New Specs to Beat Cable (BBHR 9/15/2004) described the DSL Forum's many specifications for triple-play services. These cover the overall architecture (TR-058 and TR-059) and many of the lower-level interfaces and protocols.
  • 2Wire has been heavily involved in the development of TR-069 and has provided management servers and gateways to many service providers. We have covered 2Wire in several articles, most recently Integrating the Missing Piece: 2Wire Does Video (BBHR 4/26/2004).

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