Beyond the Network: Why Standardization Efforts are being brought into the Home

Robin Mersh, CEO, Broadband Forum

Robin Mersh, CEO, Broadband Forum

As subscribers demand for live video streaming, cloud storage and other Internet of Things (IoT), inspired applications continue to rise at an exponential rate, the broadband industry is faced with an unprecedented, yet exciting, period of technological upheaval.

With these applications turning anytime, anywhere connectivity from a arketing catchphrase into reality, it is crucial that access technologies such as Passive Optical Networks (PON), Gfast and wireless evolve to deliver higher and higher levels of performance if they are to meet subscribers’ expectations.

To do so, next-generation broadband access must not only be delivered to the door of subscribers’ homes—connected devices in the home must also be efficiently deployed, managed, monitored and upgraded to enable end-to-end quality of service.

And this is exactly why Broadband Forum is evolving its work to address the network end-to-end, ensuring that every part of operators’ infrastructure is ready for the increased demands driven by new technologies like 5G and the proliferation of connected IoT devices in the home.

Unlocking the connected home with USP

With a new era of architectures, products, and services emerging on the scene, existing broadband infrastructures must evolve to be equipped to meet the demands of the connected home.

As consensus around next-generation networks increases, Broadband Forum has evolved its nearly ubiquitousTR-069 standard—which is now nearing one billion installations worldwide—to deliver a new standard for implementing, deploying and managing all types of devices in the modern broadband home.

Consisting of a data model, architecture, and standard communications protocol, the Broadband Forum’s User Services Platform (USP) transforms consumer broadband networks into a platform for the development, deployment, and support of broadband enabled applications and services.

While customer support can be improved by remote monitoring and troubleshooting of connected devices, services, and home network links with USP, performance of these applications under a wide range of conditions will require close measurement. New testing techniques will be the key to an efficient network and a high Quality of Experience (QoE).

ALT, what is it good for?

The emergence of virtualization technologies, such as Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Networks Functions Virtualization (NFV) has resulted in a wave of operators and vendors looking to change their approach to network design and operations. This has opened the door to new opportunities such as network convergence, which will allow operators to offer multiple services for diverse subscribers over common network architectures. Network sharing has also been introduced within this shift, which will aid multiple providers to lease resources on a common infrastructure— allowing operators to offer increasingly complex and dynamic services to their customers.

If these applications are to live up to their means and deliver the QoE subscribers are demanding, the industry must understand the complex behaviors generated by these applications at the application layer itself.

This is the main driver behind Broadband Forum’s latest Application-Layer Testing (ALT) initiative, which aims to go beyond typical lower layer techniques by defining a set of traffic generation techniques, test methodologies, and performance metrics that focus on the traffic generated by applications running over the network.

A new approach

The Forum’s work surrounding ALT complements lower layer testing as opposed to replacing it, while allowing testing scenarios to be carried out in conditions which are impractical with lower layer testing. This work aims to complement and strengthen the value of testing at all layers in the network stack, by focusing on the specificity, portability and repeatability of test cases.

The Forum is ensuring test cases are specified unambiguously, independent of specific implementations. Broadband Forum is also laying the groundwork so that these test cases can be consistently applied, independent of the lab where they are implemented, or the equipment used, ensuring that a test performed in one lab can be directly comparable to the same test performed in a different lab.

Addressing repetitiveness, the Forum is performing test cases on the same system under the same conditions to allow the same results to be generated within the expected margins of statistical error.

The enabler

By addressing testing which uses traffic flows generated at Layers 2-4, network operators and service providers can use ALT to measure network characteristics like speed, latency, jitter, and packet loss of new network services, components, and architectures in the lab, before deploying them in the field.

For example, broadband traffic to even a single household can represent a complex mix of applications, devices, and end-users—and it doesn’t stop there. This traffic then also interacts with traffic from other households to create even more complex patterns across the access network. Thanks to ALT, these interactions can be emulated in the lab in a way that would be difficult or impossible with lower layer testing.

These tests can help establish the parameters for network performance, prove out new designs, and find any problems early to ensure QoE is not compromised. This efficiency is particularly beneficial for Network Functions vendors who want to test their products alongside other vendors, as well as operators who want to deliver high-quality, value-added broadband services.

A connected experience

Subscribers’ QoE is dependent not only on network performance, but each application’s sensitivity to different network performance characteristics.

For instance, when a subscriber is streaming a video over a device within their home, if the receiver buffer in the video client empties or the streaming rate is reduced, it can result in a video “freeze” which will ultimately significantly reduce the quality of the end-users’ experience. But, by observing these occurrences directly at the application layer rather than the network, it becomes possible to predict QoE more directly to prevent significant drops in service such as these.

Broadband Forum’s USP also ensures network-aware consumer electronics such as IoT devices, smart Wi-Fi, set-top boxes, and smart gateways which are delivering these applications, can be deployed, managed, monitored and upgraded in real-time to ensure a universally available, seamless user experience.

USP also permits a vast number of devices from different suppliers to be integrated into service providers’ offerings, enabling them to offer new, revenue-generating services to end-users. Newly installed or purchased devices and virtual services can also be easily added with USP, while customer support is improved by remote monitoring and troubleshooting of connected devices, services and home network links.

Overall, this offers a great proposition for operators, allowing them to deliver a superior user experience and increase their service offering, while reducing customer support calls.

The end goal

It’s not just network operators who are expected to benefit significantly from this efficiency. Every participant in the broadband service delivery value chain—service providers, consumer electronics manufacturers, network function vendors, access equipment vendors, and test systems vendors—stand to benefit significantly from USP and ALT standardization.

For Broadband Forum, the ultimate goal is to ensure the whole network, from the access technology which will deliver the connectivity to the subscriber’s home to the platform that manages the connected devices within it, is prepared for the hyper-connected, virtualized world. This, in turn, will ensure a superior experience for subscribers, more consistent QoE, and result in significantly reduced support calls and higher subscriber satisfaction.

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