Optical/IP Networks

Telcos, Vendors Battle Over Gateway

MADRID – Broadband World Forum Europe – Some of the world's biggest telecom operators have identified a new triple-play battleground: the home gateway that sits between the network and the customer's home, through which they hope to deliver a broad range of IP-based multimedia services.

But they're facing an almighty struggle with equipment firms to get what they want, when they want it, and at the price they want it.

The carriers want sophisticated devices that can perform multiple functions beyond the capabilities of today's residential gateways, and so have become involved in a new industry body, the Home Gateway Initiative (HGI).

The HGI, formed in December 2004 by a group of nine operators -- eight European incumbents and Japanese giant NTT Communications Corp. -- now has 56 members, a mix of service providers, chip vendors, and equipment manufacturers. (See Motive Joins Home Gateway Initiative.)

The service provider members include BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI), and Spain's Telefónica SA.

That's a heavyweight brigade of carriers, which shows how seriously they are taking this issue. Graham Finnie, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, says the home gateways issue "has been one of the major themes at this week's event, and that's because these products are extremely strategic to service providers because of their importance in delivering a whole new range of services. But it's a very complex issue, and the specifications the HGI has in mind could be difficult to deliver at an acceptable price point."

That pricing issue is set to be a major pain point. The industry group will shortly deliver a broad set of home gateway specifications to the vendors of next-generation residential customer premises equipment. That wish list of capabilities will include support for fixed, mobile, and wireless LAN services, as well as security features, device management, and QOS, to name but a few.

Currently, says Telecom Italia project manager Paolo Pastorino, who is also the HGI's CTO and chief business officer, "all major operators providing triple-play services are having to work with non-standardized gateways." He says the products currently available are too complex for the average user to use, do not help deliver guaranteed levels of service, and can't keep up with the current rapid changes in technology.

The HGI's carrier members believe that gateways meeting those specifications will help them efficiently deliver multimedia services over a broadband connection. And Pastorino says they want these gateways to be available at between €50 ($60) and €70 ($84) per unit.

That price, however, is causing consternation even among the HGI's own vendors members. Vaughn Armstrong, marketing director at gateway provider Westell Ltd., says "our engineering guy came back from last week's HGI meeting and estimated that to build a product to the expected specifications would cost about €1,000 [$1,200]."

The HGI's specifications will be issued internally for discussion within the next few weeks, says Pastorino, and the first full set will be sent to HGI members before the end of the year. They'll then be distributed externally in the first quarter of 2006.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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