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Virtualizing home network troubleshooting

As featured in DisruptiveViews

Have you ever had issues with your home internet connection, Wi-Fi or new devices that simply won’t connect or stop working altogether? What is your first response – look up the service manual, Google it or call your service provider?

Like me, you have probably tried all the above at some stage but when the issue simply cannot be resolved your service provider may have to send a technician out to track and fix the fault, even if it is inside your own home and a problem that may be more than a network issue.

This process takes time and costs a lot of money so it is no surprise that service providers are looking at better ways to resolve the issues in real-time and from a central support location. You could call this a ‘virtual’ service of sorts.

It should be no surprise that a team comprising AT&T, Orange and Telecom Italia have been sponsoring an ongoing project under the guidance of the TM Forum that has developed a blueprint of the architecture for vCPE or virtual customer premise equipment in a residential environment, and is looking at how to proactively detect and correct service issues.

Projects like this are aptly named ‘Catalysts.’ These are rapid fire, member-driven proof-of-concept projects which both inform and leverage TM Forum best practices and standards, connecting service providers, technology suppliers, and global enterprises to create innovative solutions to common industry challenges.

There are two types of roles in a Catalyst – a champion (usually an organization seeking a solution to problem) and participants (organizations contributing to solving the problem). Ericsson, Infosys, SAS, Viavi Solutions and HDS are participants in the vCPE Catalyst. Working together these players create an agile, even accelerated environment to come up with a solution that everyone can benefit from.

In the case of vCPE, through virtualization the customer’s local area network is extended to the provider’s network, which means the service provider can perform troubleshooting without having to dispatch a technician to the customer’s premises. In the case of the Catalyst, a bridge residential gateway (BRG), a simple device that stays in the home, communicates with a virtual residential gateway (vRG) in the cloud.

This phase of the Catalyst, which will be demonstrated at TM Forum Live! 2016 in Nice, France, in May, are underway and will include additional work on service assurance. The team is also considering adding an Internet of Things (IoT) focus to explore how to virtualize IoT devices in the home such as smart appliances, thermostats, lights, etc.

“Customers are reluctant to fully adopt IoT until the devices are easier to install, maintain and secure,” said Pablo Martinez, product marketing director of OSS at Ericsson, and one of the Catalyst’s leaders. “Right now all the intelligence is in the appliance, which they have to install and maintain, but what happens when something goes wrong? Our idea would be to virtualize the device and have an operator host it in a data center where they can guarantee proactive assurance and security.”

The focus of this Catalyst is the development of predictive analytics and enhanced diagnostics in a vCPE environment to offer proactive care of residential IP services:

  1. Monitoring of home devices and distributed virtualized functions to detect service degradation issues proactively;
  1. Collecting contextual data (trouble history, usage patterns, geographic issues) and identify service degradation signature patterns to help with predictive analytics and building a knowledge base to promote closed loop automation.

The main benefits will be improved customer experience, lower OPEX and agility of offering additional innovative value-adds for service providers by leveraging a vCPE platform that reduces truck rolls and uses advanced analytics/process automation to achieve proactive care. That’s a far cry from the scenario painted at the start of this article, isn’t it?