Smart Home

Quint Plays: The Smart (Home) Move for SPs

Are service providers doing all they can to anticipate consumer demand?

We pose this question because new technologies are now challenging traditional service providers to do more. The more services are moving to the cloud, the more this is disrupting the ways in which consumers are using technology.

For instance, watching linear video over a set-top box (STB) is slowly being replaced by watching non-linear content over the top, often delivered by the new kids on the block. These can be new players like Netflix, YouTube or Amazon, broadcasters or even content owners delivering their programming in a more direct way to audiences. Sometimes, these new players also stream live TV channels online, allowing consumers to find their favorite shows and live programs in the cloud.

The risk for service providers is that they may ultimately be seen as just huge data pipes, which require heavy investment to remain operational and to support ever increasing bandwidth requirements and QoS.

Voice-video-data-mobile-... smart home?
A vision for a brighter future has service providers moving towards becoming the consumer's preferred supplier of both entertainment and IT services. And the way for them to achieve this is by moving to a "quintuple play," adding the smart home as the fifth element to their current quadruple offering, also known as "the fantastic four" (video, voice, data, mobile).

Service providers can and should play a very important role in the smart home space, and there are already examples of big players exploring various approaches to this new, exciting market. It's only natural they do this because they are perceived as the experts in terms of IT and video devices in the home. Most service providers visit the consumer's premises on a regular basis, and while optimizing TV set-tops and WiFi networks, they can easily extend their reach to many smart home applications.

Bring the STB back to center stage
Why smart home? In today’s household, the amount of connected smart devices is growing very fast. The central piece used to be the STB, but today many other devices are in play, including smart lights, smart meters, wearables, health devices, weather devices, alarms, monitoring equipment and more. Each of these devices is connected to the cloud, but this is their vendor's own closed cloud, which has limited links to all the other clouds. The real opportunity lies in connecting devices across these various clouds so that their interactions with one another create an overall integrated smart home experience, where actions on one type of device can have effects on another.

Putting the STB in the new smart home ecosystem can open up some interesting applications that have yet to be explored. Connecting the STB to other smart devices in the home transforms the TV into an intelligent display that informs, entertains and alerts family members based on highly personal, customizable input. This way it can regain center stage in the home. And the more smart devices that are added to the ecosystem, the more scenarios can be defined.

Three things service providers should know
There are three major points that service providers should consider when looking at moving into a quintuple play by adding smart home services to their offerings.

1. Making different-vendor smart devices interact with each other
The smart home space is now divided between multiple device vendors, each with its own "device cloud" that communicates with the physical products, performs software upgrades and collects data. Service providers should aim to be the layer on top and connect to all of them through an IoT aggregation cloud, enabling all the different devices to interact with each other.

What's more, they would also connect their own devices: STBs, gateways or devices coming from any of their other networks, including their low-power WAN networks. In practice, a simple application would let consumers choose any type of smart device or appliance to trigger a message to pop up on their TV.

2. Linking the physical to the digital
After the physical products and devices, the next step is to connect other sources of information. These could be: Internet-derived data, such as location or weather information; consumer data, such as birthdays; or enterprise IT systems, such as the operator's backend software. Connecting and combining data from all sources inside the aggregation cloud would allow service providers to apply and execute intelligent logic on top, as well as offer extremely personalized experiences to customers.

3. Creating the right UI/UX
An important element to get right is the user experience and management of the actual user interfaces -- both the consumer-facing applications and the service provider's business applications.

From a consumer perspective, you can have multiple apps for different user experiences. The early adopters (so-called technology addicts) typically wish to be in full control, like to create their own automation rules or want access to peer communities where they can share ideas and be inspired. Other customer segments might prefer the exact opposite, such as having a very simple, straightforward solution that solves a very concrete use case.

From a business perspective, you can have internal apps for your help desk, NOC, sales people in the shop, technicians and so on. The internal business apps allow sales and technical people to quickly help customers and solve their problems in an easy and timely way.

Service providers are being challenged by the fast pace of technology changing consumer behavior. But these changes are also creating tremendous opportunities. One such opportunity is the quint play, where the smart home is included to deliver on the promise of being the consumer’s preferred supplier of entertainment and IT services.

— Tim DeVreese, Business Development Manager, Waylay NV

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