Today most Internet customers have one or more pieces of Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) that provide services and capabilities to them. Access points generally provide services such as wired and wireless connectivity, Ethernet switching, DHCP, NAT, QoS routing, firewalls and other security features. With the introduction of Virtual CPE (vCPE), there remains the need for a physical device at the customer premise (pCPE), but this device can be much less complex, handling only the physical connectivity and the local switching. The remainder of the functionality can be virtualized and moved to the cloud.
So why should these services be virtualized? Why move them into the Service Provider network? Today Service Providers have limited abilities to troubleshoot issues in the customer’s local network. By moving these services into the Service Provider network, more robust capabilities will be enabled allowing the Service Provider to see the devices in the home, and, with the permission of the customer, to troubleshoot specific devices and traffic from those devices.
What about privacy concerns? Service Providers already have the ability to see traffic traversing their network, but they have no ability to identify the specific devices in the local network producing that traffic. Therefore, the introduction of vCPE is really just an enhancement to visibility that the Service Provider has now. For the more sophisticated customer that wants to totally remove these concerns a customer owned home router can be put in place in the home that will block this enhanced visibility. It ensures privacy, but also removes the additional services that the Service Provider can deliver.
Another advantage is management of these virtual devices in the Service Provider cloud. This includes periodic firmware updates to insure that the device has all of the latest patches, thus addressing any potential vulnerabilities. It also includes having the configuration saved so that if there is a physical device failure a new device can be overnighted to the customer, connected to the network, and the configuration can be retrieved putting the customer back in service without having to reconfigure a new device from scratch.
There is another benefit from being able to see the devices in the home. This is the ability to offer differentiated services on each device. Customers will have the ability to assign the devices in the home to unique profiles that they can define themselves. For example: children, parents, and guests. Based on these profiles they can determine which services should be applied to each device in the home. A great example of this is a Parental Control service where the parent has their child’s devices to go through content filtering as they access the Internet so that inappropriate sites can be blocked. There would be no need to install software on the individual devices. Guest devices can be handled in the same manner so that a child’s friend can not do anything the child can’t while they are on the customer’s network. Through cloud-based centralized hosting of the service, it is also possible for the content filtering to follow the child outside of the home. In fact, all services in the customer’s device profile can be extended outside of the home. This level of mobility, where it is possible to have access to all of your home services from wherever you are is a leap in capability beyond that offered by traditional OTT players today.
Additionally, Network Attached Storage (NAS) can be set up in the Service Provider network and injected into the home via Layer-2 proxy to make it appear as if it is a local device in the home. Customers can use this storage for sharing items with family through an OTT access method, backing up their computers, or even a Cloud DVR solution. Expanding the capacity of your DVR or file storage solution will be as easy as logging into a user portal and ordering more storage.
All of these are great for Customers but what about the Service Providers. What will make it worth it for them to implement vCPE?
The ability to provide a better customer experience with enhanced support is a great advantage in keeping a customer long term. Other advantages include possible reductions in Capex by having less expensive devices in the customer’s home. In addition, with expanded virtualization in the cloud, there could be a reduction in the number of devices needed at the customer’s premises, further reducing the CAPEX involved in deploying new services. A reduction in Opex can also be achieved by reducing the number of truck rolls to the customer premise for issues that can easily be resolved remotely via the enhanced visibility gained with vCPE. This is further enhanced due to the functionality of that CPE existing in the cloud versus a physical device at the customer premise.
Service Providers can further reduce cost (CAPEX and OPEX) when introducing new services by being able to deploy new offerings much faster and at a much lower cost. Often today, when a new service is being offered it may require replacement of CPE or the addition of devices in the home. Virtualization helps remove the dependency on the physical device, thereby eliminating this costly component of rolling new offerings.
The end result of this is the introduction of new business models that the Service Provider can take advantage of, as well as the ability to offer new services that they could not before. Without the large upfront costs of a complicated market trial and hardware focused implementation, more services can be introduced that require fewer subscribers in order to be profitable.
This is the future, and it is a good one for both customer and Service Provider, though both may have to be drug into it kicking and screaming.