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Home networks made practical

Wed, 05/18/2011 - 8:51am
Brian Santo

Amdocs is showing customers a new permutation of home gateway designed to enable service providers to package a bunch of ancillary broadband services, including security systems and medical monitoring, and make a real business out of them.

Service providers have been reluctant to get into home networking for good reasons: They have little or no visibility into the devices that people might plug in to a home network, and even if they did have that visibility, they didn't have the tools to provision, manage and bill for the devices and associated services.

Amdocs is now set to address all of that. The billing and customer relationship management (CRM) specialist has developed hardware-agnostic gateway software, coupled with the back office systems necessary to make it all a revenue-generating proposition.

Amdocs demonstrated a gateway, roughly a cube measuring about 7 inches a side, into which it plugged a series of monitoring products that would all connect using low-power, short-range ZigBee or Z-Wave wireless connectivity.

Amdocs said about 250 connected devices have already been created, and more are coming every day. "And the prices are hitting the floor," said Gary Miles, Amdocs' vice president of service delivery.

One demonstrated monitor was a water leak detector, which included a small (maybe 1-inch square) detector and a transmitter to send signals to the box; it costs about $20. Others included smoke detectors, security cameras, a weight scale and a blood pressure monitor. Using that last item, Amdocs demonstrated how the results could be immediately sent through the gateway and uploaded to a Google Health Web page.

An operator could bundle a medical package. It might include monitors for heart rate, blood pressure, weight, blood sugar. It might include connections for pill dispensers to make sure someone is taking their pills (or taking the right ones). The refrigerator could be hooked up, and if it isn't opened for a certain length of time, you might surmise that the patient isn't eating properly.

The box has enough processing power to analyze data. It can be programmed to interpret health monitor results and can be set to issue SMS alerts based on the analysis.

Such a package might go for anywhere from $5 a month to $15 a month, a straight add to ARPU. The gateway box might retail for about $200. The suite of attachments might cost another $150. If the service provider subsidizes the box and gets about 7 percent penetration over five years, according to Amdocs' analysis, a provider could add anywhere between 10 to 15 percent to topline revenue.

Similar packages could be developed around home automation, home security, energy and utility management, and, perhaps, multimedia. Multiple packages could be bundled.

The analysis was based on the experience of several global providers, each specializing in just one type of networked service, M1 in Singapore working with partner Chubb in home security, for example, or Telecom Italia with medical monitoring.

"This is very, very sticky," said Miles.

France's M2M Solution created the gateway Amdocs used in the demonstration. This box had a three-hour battery. It depends on a broadband connection. Absent that, or if the broadband connection fails and Wi-Fi somehow remains available, it can switch over to Wi-Fi. If that fails, too, it can be equipped with a SIM card to connect to a 3G cellular network.

This box had a motion detector and a wide-angle lens (that the user could elect to turn off).

D-Link is developing gateways that could host the Amdocs software, and Cisco has such products already, noted Miles. He said Amdocs is talking with both.

The particular box being demonstrated was not designed for content routing or storage. Nothing stops those functions from being integrated, however, short of cost.

The drawback is that that particular implementation might represent yet one more box in people's homes. The flipside is that since the capability is implemented largely in software, it could conceivably be integrated into a router or a gateway, or even added to a gateway in a dongle.

This is the type of thing that can finally push home networking beyond the ad hoc tangle it is now.


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