Smarter gateways for managed home networking

John C. Tanner
16 Apr 2009

Several years ago, home networking services were touted as a possible VAS opportunity for broadband service providers. But most operators have been reluctant to push services past the modem or set-top box, for a simple reason: service management. Operators have no control over what devices customers connect to the home network, or the traffic generated from one device to another - and if the home network gets congested and customers call the service hotline, the last thing they want to hear is that you have no control over a service they're paying you to provide.

The good news is that home gateways are evolving to allow operators to manage home network traffic.

The Home Gateway Initiative - a global industry body of service providers whose ranks include KDDI, NTT, Telekom Malaysia and Telstra - has been working on standards for home gateways based on related specs from a variety of sources, including the ITU, Broadband Forum, DLNA, Wi-Fi Alliance and the Femto Forum, among others. Release 2 of the HGI\'s Residential Profile, released early last year, includes specs for things like multimedia support, security, and managing bandwidth for guest access.

Key to the HGI profile is its QoS architecture that allows service providers to not only manage home network bandwidth behind the gateway, but also prioritize it in favor of paid IP services, says Duncan Bees, CTO of HGI.

'Service providers are already looking to provide services like IPTV and VoIP and over-the-top services via home gateways, and there are a lot of choke points in home networks,' says Bees. 'They need tools to be able to manage those bandwidth bottlenecks.'

The HGI's QoS architecture framework essentially comprises a central server at the backend that makes the home gateway a trusted and controllable element in the access network. The home gateway can then be used to distinguish between "wanted' traffic (say, an IPTV stream) and 'unwanted traffic' (a P2P session), and ensure the wanted traffic has enough bandwidth to function properly.

HGI Release 3, due out by the end of this year or early next year, will better address P2P with functionality like classification of service instances, which would enable home gateways to not simply identify a traffic flow is VoIP, but distinguish between service provider-based VoIP and Skype, and manage those flows accordingly, Bees says.

Release 3 will also support IPv6, multiple traffic flows, better energy efficiency, remote management and software execution environment. The latter could prove particularly appealing, as it enables service providers to install, uninstall or upgrade applications on the home gateway without rebooting the system.

'That will not only help them install software tools to manage traffic and services, but also create new value added services on the gateway, which helps create service differentiation,' says Bees.

ABI Research analyst Serene Fong notes that while intelligent home gateways will account for over 40% of home networking CPE shipments by 2012, one tradeoff of extra functionality is added cost.

'Home gateways generally cost more upfront compared to available alternatives, which puts them at an obvious disadvantage in any price-sensitive market,' Fong said in a recent research note. 'Additionally, gateway equipment is usually purchased separately or as a hardware upgrade.'

Bees acknowledges that cost is an issue, but adds that service providers remain concerned about trends like P2P and their current lack of ability to manage it properly.

'Internet traffic is growing dramatically, home networks are generating more traffic and these boxes do need to be more powerful to be able to cope with it,' he says.

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