Cable Tech

RBOCs Want Inside Your House

As if selling you voice, video, and data services weren't enough, three of the nation's largest phone companies have designs to help build and manage your home network, too.

In recent interviews with three RBOC technology executives, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) each told Light Reading that being a service provider will soon mean managing all aspects and equipment related to any voice, video, and data service inside the home. (See IP Video: In the House.)

Each provider has a slightly different take on what type of residential gateway to use, and the video distribution schemes are still coming into focus. But it is clear that residential gateways are increasing in importance, as are the ability of carriers to hold on to customers for life by managing all the services that touch their homes.

More importantly, though, this push into home networking now -- and, later, device management -- could be a key to the RBOC's survival. As Heavy Reading's Graham Finnie wrote in his February report, carriers allowed themselves to be thought of as "dumb pipe" providers by not taking more control of telephone management and, later, broadband devices. (See The DSL Gateway Dilemma.)

"This encouraged a sense among consumers that telcos were just pipe providers; so by becoming again the major supplier of more sophisticated (and subsidized) home equipment, service providers could reclaim the initiative on new broadband services." Finnie writes. He points out in the report that, according to one service provider, "The raw-pipe threat has never been as big as it is today, so we must be more present in devices."

Indeed, the major CTOs of the large U.S. RBOCs apparently agree with this statement, and they are looking at broadband as a launching point into more managed home services.

"The service provider can offer the managed solution to them to handle the firewall, manage the anti-spam and the anti-spyware programs, and ensure that there is the adequate priority of services inside the home," says Chris Rice, AT&T's executive VP of network planning and engineering.

Rice says AT&T is using TR-069, a management protocol drafted by the DSL Forum, along with 2Wire Inc. 's residential gateway, to manage consumer home networks for Lightspeed customers. "Much like businesses prefer to use managed services, we think consumers will look for managed services, too," he says.

Verizon is also making its way inside consumer homes. "We have this center piece of our home networking architecture called the broadband home router (BHR) and we’re providing IP connectivity from the network to the BHR and then...adding NAT functions, network address translators, to all the devices that sit behind them, whether they be for data or they be for video or even conceivably for voice," says Verizon CTO Mark Wegleitner .

He adds that the broadband home router "really exists today" and it has "all the things you would expect to find in a home router, plus MoCA."

Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) is a group formed to promote standards for home networking equipment using coaxial cable.)

Table 1: Residential Gateways In The Digital Home
Modem Usually integrated
Router Usually integrated
Wireless Network 802.11, usually integrated
Wired Network Ethernet usually integrated, other wired home networks becoming integrated
Analog POTS or ISDN Phone Analog terminal adapters increasingly integrated
VOIP Phone Usually via phone port only; small number of vendors include phone cradle
DECT Phone Some vendors support DECT via gateway
Mobile (Dual-Mode) Phone Rapidly increasing interest in support
Desktop/Laptop PC Directly connected
Media Center/Server/Storage Not integrated, but increasingly connected; seen as playing a key role in content distribution
IP STB Not usually integrated, but increasingly connected and quality-controlled via gateway; some see more integration in the future
TV Usually connected via separate STB, not gateway
Personal Video Recorder Usually connected to TV; seen by some on consumer electronics side as playing an important role in content distribution
Game Console Increasingly connected directly; some vendors have games-oriented gateways
Dedicated Home Control & Automation Equipment Not connected, rarely based on IP; some vendors and service providers looking at bridging devices to connect
Video Monitoring and Related Security Equipment Beginning to be connected; some interest, especially in certain countries
HVAC and Domestic Appliances Not usually connected; some interest, especially in certain countries
Source: Heavy Reading

In fact, according to Verizon's Executive Director of Access Terchnologies, Brian Whitton, the BHR will have two chipsets based on the MoCA technology standard inside. This allows Verizon to (1) get broadband data and video from outside the home to the BHR and (2) move broadband data and video between the BHR and other devices via existing coaxial cable. Essentially, it creates a WAN and LAN in the home using just one physical set of cables to connect the optical network terminal (ONT) outside the home to the BHR to the MoCA-enabled set-top box on the TV.

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"Ill" Duce 12/5/2012 | 3:57:19 AM
re: RBOCs Want Inside Your House Yeah!! We are headed back to a single owner system. I can hardly wait. The irony is that this time, people will actually want their AT&T provided gear in black. Maybe we will get lucky and they will RENT it to us!!!

The RBOCs not only want to be seen as providers of enhanced services, they wan to control the technology rollouts. Back in the good old days, the tech stuff rolled out nice and slow, like a slow cool breeze brushing across the front porch. And if that gear wasn't approved by Ma, you could kiss it goodbye. Then they lost contrlo of the networks and the technology and the strat planners went nuts!!! How can I impose busy-hour algorithms on an IP network?

Although I will say this: A wise man once said: a regulated monopoly is far less dangerous than an unregulated duopoly.

materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:57:19 AM
re: RBOCs Want Inside Your House How cool. Now, the phone company can sell me a do-all gateway that keeps me safe and sends me HDTV, in exchange for customer choice and an open internet. Now, when something goes wrong, I just call one phone number, pay through the nose, and wait and wait. Forget new services, too.

We are headed back to the black ATT phone.
geof hollingsworth 12/5/2012 | 3:57:15 AM
re: RBOCs Want Inside Your House a regulated monopoly is far less dangerous than an unregulated duopoly.

Maybe, but they are each less pleasant than having hot tar poured into your nostrils. I just spent an hour speaking with various AT&T service reps about my DSL service. I would like to re-up for an annual contract to cut my monthly service charge, but the on-line customer service portal says I can't do that because DSL isn't offered at my house. Pretty amusing, no? But that is their story, even speaking to "live" CSO's. "Sorry, our records show that DSL service isn't available to you."

Me: "But I have had DSL service for over 2 years!"

CSO: "Yes, I see that. But if you cancel it, you won't be able to re-establish that service as we no longer offer it in your area."

My "area", as they so charmingly put it, is a leafy town less than 15 miles from downtown San Francisco. Yeah, I can hardly wait to turn my home communications infrastructure over to AT&T.

Visualize a rolling-eyes emoticon here.

OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:57:13 AM
re: RBOCs Want Inside Your House geof,

They need a National franchise so you can't even find a CSO to call.

emmettgolf 12/5/2012 | 3:56:50 AM
re: RBOCs Want Inside Your House Verizon is about the same. Over the past 4 years, I put DSL in in my homes in Marin and New York. A simple DSL installation took about 5 days in both cases with modem replacements in both cases.

I started trying to put DSL and a router in in my home in Morgan Hill 23 days ago. I thought the Telcos would have figured out how to do this by now. Initially it locked up every 20 minutes. After being told that my browser was bad, my winsock file was bad, my Ethernet boards were bad, and all three of my computers were bad, Verizon replaced the router with a new one that didn't work. Verizon told me that the problem was somewhere else in their network and that I would get a call as soon as they got it fixed. I have not heard from them for 10 days. I was able to read the router manual and configure the router. It now only locks up 4-6 times a day. I have 2 Ethernet connections and a wireless connection working. I just checked open service calls on my account online and they were all closed ten days ago.

I used to install mainframes in 3 days and mini-computers in less than a day. How can the Telcos expect the general non-technical public to have a successful experience with their new services?
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