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Smiling with Huawei's OpenLife for smart homes

Network pipelines, massive user numbers, and business services set telcos apart in the smart home market. Huawei's smart home solution brings these strengths to bear in the smart home arena.

By Zhou Bo, Senior Marketing Manager, Access Network, Huawei
Mar 2016

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Network pipelines, massive user numbers, and business services – these are the three features that set telcos apart in the smart home market. Huawei's smart home solution brings these strengths to bear in the smart home arena.

The global smart home market will be worth US$235.8 billion in 2016, and so it’s no surprise that telcos, device manufacturers, and content providers are all rushing for a piece of the action.

China’s major telcos have all launched smart home services in the shape of China Telecom’s Happy Me, China Unicom’s Smart WO Home, and China Mobile’s Home Harmony. Further afield, major players like AT&T, Verizon, and Telefonica are doing the same. And, telcos aren’t alone – big-name hardware manufacturers, Internet companies, and application developers are eyeing a slice of the smart home pie, including Apple, Samsung, Haier, Google, Xiaomi, LeTV, and Alibaba. 

Telcos’ triple edge

Telcos have three main advantages. First, before anything else, smart home services need a strong network infrastructure, something which only telcos can offer. Second, telcos already have a large customer base to whom they can promote smart home services, and also boost ARPU and loyalty with high-bandwidth VAS services. Third, they have mature support systems and enough personnel to run these services well.

The challenges

Despite the rosy outlook, four main issues hinder telcos’ foray into smart home services:

Issue 1: creating unified interfaces and control points. Major vendors offer multiple versions; for example, Apple's HomeKit is accessed by iPhones or iPads, Haier's smart hardware is controlled remotely by a smartphone app and home gateway, and Philips' smart Hue lighting is controlled by a ZigBee control gateway and mobile app.

So, things get complicated for users – they have to buy multiple gateways and install numerous customer terminals, greatly diminishing QoE.

Operators have two control points in users' homes: one, home gateways like xDSL modems and ONT Internet terminals, which closely integrate with their pipelines; and, two, smartphones. 

Issue2: interworking between different vendors’ hardware. Operators need to consider which control support systems they need at the backend, how to integrate them with legacy service platforms, and how to achieve interoperability with other manufacturers' smart hardware on the backend. They also need to consider support systems for new service rollout, provisioning, deployment, authentication, and billing.

Issue 3: choosing the right service focus

Issue 4: finding the best industry partners for provisioning and integration. This is far from easy – in one horror story, a Western European carrier accepted a tender for smart home services, but the bid-winner couldn’t integrate and consolidate different vendors’ services. Costing huge amounts of time and money, the operator was forced to re-tender the project.

Getting smart with Huawei

Huawei's smart home solution comprises three components: one, the cloud, NetOpen; two, the pipe, a smart home gateway; and, three, the device, a mobile app. These come under Huawei’s OpenLife business development plan. Utilizing telcos’ legacy network pipes, the solution smoothly develops smart home services for telcos.

NetOpen platform (cloud): Huawei's NetOpen comprises a cloud management platform for smart homes (IoT Platform), an IoT gateway agent (IoT Agent), and an intelligent home gateway management platform (NetOpen). 

NetOpen opens network capabilities to enable intelligent network evolution. It packages operators' network bandwidth, latency, QoS, and billing capabilities into APIs, enabling operators to provide differentiated smart home services for different broadband users. 

It unifies the control and encapsulation of the bandwidth acceleration capability of Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) service gateways (BRAS), and provides API interfaces for flexible on-demand scheduling by upper-layer service platforms. 

NetOpen unifies the management of smart home services, such as provisioning, billing, and reconciliation, to provide services like home security, video, and online education. It controls mobile app widgets from different hardware vendors, allowing them to work together, and provides standard open API interfaces for integrating third party systems. 

NetOpen invokes APIs so the network pipeline can protect bandwidth for services, greatly improving user experience and solving limited bandwidth issues. This function can be applied in scenarios like 4K videos, which are prone to freezing, or video surveillance, which tends to be affected by image delays and pixelation. 

Smart home gateway (pipe): The entry point to the user's home, the pipe integrates with services in two network scenarios: new and legacy. For new networks, Huawei suggests an all-optical smart ONT as the smart home gateway. For legacy networks, Huawei's LAN gateway enables smart home services by connecting to xDSL modems or ONTs that lack smart gateway functionality.

Huawei's smart home gateway uses an OSGI open platform, and doesn’t need service plug-ins for integration. It supports MIMO Wi-Fi and 1 Gbps Wi-Fi access for rapid smart hardware access. 

The gateway enables home entertainment, video storage, and in-home photo storage and sharing services on USB 3.0 storage interfaces. Supporting ZigBee, Z-wave, and Wi-Fi protocols, the gateway can accommodate large appliances like air conditioners and fridges that connect to Wi-Fi, and others such as light bulbs, smoke alarms, thermometers, and water sensors that use ZigBee or Z-wave.

Mobile app (device): With vendors using different apps, a good experience is impossible without a single app acting as a unified entry point. Huawei's LinkHome app uses the NetOpen management system to integrate and enable interoperability between different vendors' applications under a unified interface. This gives a consistent experience for managing things like smart appliances and home security.

Imagine you’ve finished work and arrive at home. You open the app on Wi-Fi, and the home gateway detects you’re at the front door. The door opens, the lights come on, and your favorite tunes start playing. When you need to pop out, the system turns off the music, lights, and other appliances you set to come on. The app can also remotely connect to the smart home gateway and perform tasks such as controlling smart hardware, performing remote video surveillance, and sharing photos and videos.

OpenLife: Providing a resource pool via NetOpen, which integrates vendors’ services and plug-ins, OpenLife helps telcos choose suitable smart hardware vendors so they can smoothly launch new smart home services. OpenLife partners include application content developers and individual developers (Internet-plus); IoT hardware manufacturers and integrated service providers (Smart-plus); and channel service operators (Smart Broadband-plus). 

If a partner's service works well, the smart hardware can be brought into the OpenLife resource pool and released to operators worldwide. Companies that have joined Huawei's OpenLife include Tencent, Hikvision, Haier, Dahua Technology, Nanjing Wulian, Netvox, Fibaro, Aeonlabs, Galaxywind, Orvibo and Songshu Hulian.

A smart business plan

Users only pay for products that provide a good user experience in terms of content, service acquisition, and use. OpenLife is user-centric in that it lets operators, smart hardware providers, and platform and service integrators continuously refine user experience. 

OpenLife connects people to people, people to things, and things to things. It focuses on user experience, interoperability, and connection standards. With 100 billion connections predicted for 2025, collaboration and innovation are essential. Huawei is committed to pooling the strengths of all industry players because it knows that no single company can go it alone. 

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