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It’s time to open the gateway to virtualization

Even in a constantly-evolving industry such as broadband, it is clear that the rise of virtualisation – namely Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software Defined Network (SDN) – is a true game changer. As the broadband network begins to move further away from traditional fixed services and towards cloud-based, virtualised set-ups, operators that are able to harness these technologies most effectively are the ones most likely to see long-term continued success, with the technologies enabling fast and cost-efficient deployment of new consumer applications and services.   

The Residential Gateway (RG) is just one of many areas that could potentially benefit from virtualisation, which would also signify a major step towards delivering the next-generation broadband networks of the future. Today, that potential has now become a reality, with the release of the first ever specifications for the virtual RG – a landmark project within the Broadband Forum. 

Radical shift 

The Forum’s latest set of specifications – Network Enhanced Residential Gateway (TR-317) – is a direct response to the radical shift that the telecoms industry has undergone in recent years. The technical report forms a key part of the Forum’s plans going forward, with new home and business broadband opportunities that leverage emerging technologies such as SDN, the NFV distributed compute / network model, Internet of Things (IoT) and ultrafast technologies forming a key part of our Broadband 20/20 vision.   

Most of the changes that have resulted in a need for such a vision have been in the business ecosystem, with the end-to-end architecture remaining fundamentally the same. Over-the-top companies have evolved from fledgling startups to financial giants, flagship value-added telco services have rapidly become commoditised and residential home networks are now flooded with connected consumer electronics. At the same time, the IT ecosystem has changed and residential cloud services have become increasingly commoditised as a result of next generation network concepts and technologies such as NFV and SDN. 

The purpose of the Network Enhanced Residential Gateway architecture is to address some of the negative side effects these changes have caused for operators and empower them to provide gateway services from agile, cloud-based software, while also supporting new use cases.  

Evolving the gateway

With this in mind, TR-317 creates a flexible and agile environment, providing the necessary requirements for an end-to-end architecture. TR-317’s virtual Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) eliminates the need to provision and attach new services directly to an end-user’s Residential Gateway (RG) and enables Service Providers to do this centrally from their Cloud infrastructures, giving the potential for an enhanced customer experience and significant cost savings.    

This will enable Service Providers to personalise end-user packages and deploy new services faster, creating significant additional revenue streams. Quality of Service requirements could also be enforced on a per device or per user basis, improving the broadband customer experience, which is particularly important with the advent of new and more demanding services.    

TR-317 also addresses the heterogeneous nature of the residential gateway in its present form. It is currently incredibly tough for a telco to evolve existing gateway models, causing delays and added expense in the deployment of new features or services. In some cases, existing customer-provided equipment can even make it impossible for such services to be provisioned.    

‘Local services’ will be shifted from the home to the network, providing users with highly reliable and expandable virtual storage, which can be provisioned on a ‘pay-as-you-grow’ basis. The machine-to-machine (M2M) Home Automation Box will also move to the network, providing enhanced and easily-upgradeable M2M services.    

Parental control per device – for example, to limit services accessed by children – will also be enabled, along with improved diagnosis/troubleshooting/maintenance services due to operators being able to virtually insert a diagnosis tool in the extended home network to troubleshoot problems and support the customer. 

A virtualised future

With many broadband operators already working on the delivery of cloud-based residential gateway services, the Broadband Forum’s timely completion and publications of this specification makes our work as essential as it has ever been. NFV and SDN techniques allow the delivery of innovative services from a Point of Presence (PoP) or data center - something which was simply not possible before - to become a reality. TR-317 provides CPE manufacturers with a first set of specifications to ensure interoperability between the bridged RG at the customer premises and the virtual gateway hosted in the Service Provider’s cloud infrastructure.   

Of course, it is impossible to raise the topic of NFV and SDN with service providers without addressing the issue of migration and preservation of investment in existing infrastructure. A key value of the Forum has always been to provide guidance for practical implementation and to that end, the Forum will continue to develop best implementation practices for both Tier 1 and regional providers to enable the existence of hybrid solutions that deliver seamless transition.   

Following the release of this initial document, the Broadband Forum plan to carry out further work to extend its capabilities. This will include evolving the TR-069 protocol to manage the NERG components (the BRG and the VG) and associated services. Requirements for the design of the virtual gateway itself are also being discussed, while the possibility of adding in a capability to allow third parties to provide services via the operator is also being looked at.    

TR-317 will enable new markets and business models for providers worldwide and transform the way people communicate, purchase and consume informational and entertainment content. To do this, it will allow operators to leverage the full potential of emerging technologies, guaranteeing it a major role to play in the next-generation broadband networks of the future. 

Robin Mersh, CEO, Broadband Forum (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: Welcomia / Shutterstock

Robin Mersh has worked in the telecommunications industry for over 20 years and was promoted to the Chief Executive Officer of the Broadband Forum in July 2010.