The Connected Home Protocol
As tech-savvy individuals, it’s likely that we’ve all had a phone call from a family member or friend that usually begins with the obligatory compliment, “I know you’re good with computers, and I was hoping you could help me ...” A few years ago, this type of call was more about helping our family member or friend find a file on their computer, but today the technical challenges have evolved. Now, the questions are more likely about connectivity within the home network. Your friends and family are likely looking for help with troubleshooting a wide array of issues such as: “I can’t get my iPad onto the Internet (i.e., Wi-Fi connectivity),” or “I just bought a new TV, and it’s supposed to show photo albums from my PC (e.g., a DLNA-enabled device).” Take a look around your home and count the number of Internet-connected devices that your family owns today. Then, think back to a few years ago. How many devices were in your home then? Chances are, the number has increased dramatically. The average family of five has 15 or more devices that connect to the home network, everything from gaming systems like Xbox or Nintendo Wii, to individual laptops, tablets, smartphones, or even the television. Not surprisingly, that number continues to grow as the breadth of devices being introduced into our homes expands.
Keeping Customers Connected and Content
All of these connectivity challenges (or more importantly, the rapid adoption of new consumer technologies) point to increasing demands for the configuration and management of consumer equipment in the home. Configuration and management of the devices that make up the home network are critical, as this will eventually drive the customer’s level of satisfaction. With this changing demand, a new question arises: Who should take responsibility for managing the home network? One very real option is the ISP (Internet service provider) leveraging the Broadband Forum’s TR-069 protocol. But why would a service provider want to take on additional management responsibilities inside the home? The answer is simple: Happy customers are sticky customers (ones that don’t change or drop services). As consumers continue to expand the number of devices connected to the home network, they will perceive disruptions in those connections and services as faults of their provider. Managing the home network will become the new battleground in maintaining customer satisfaction.
The TR-069 protocol is implemented through a series of RPC (remote procedure calls), transported over the broadband network via HTTP or HTTPS. The ISP’s auto-configuration server uses an RPC to request the device to perform a specific action. The protocol currently includes around 25 RPCs to perform common actions, such as setting configuration parameters like the Wi-Fi SSID, requesting the device download and upgrade its firmware, or reading important statistics. The real design beauty of TR-069 lies in its extensibility. Because the device-specific components, called “data models,” are separated from the protocol itself, it’s possible to extend TR-069 to manage new types of devices. This extensibility, combined with TR-069’s use in service installation, activation, maintenance, and support, provide the ISP and consumers with a long-term solution.
How is TR-069 used today? The protocol is currently being used or rolled out by nearly every major service provider around the world to manage some portions of the home network, with a last count of around 150 million devices. The most common type of device managed by the protocol is the broadband residential gateway (modem/router). Service providers are using TR-069 to perform management and configuration operations, with a full featured TR-069 device being capable of upgrading its firmware, setting and retrieving configuration parameters, uploading log files, and performing network diagnostics such as ping and trace-route. If the service provider chooses to integrate its ACS with its customer support portal, it means fewer hours on the phone with customer support. It can also provide the technician with a near realtime status update on the home network.
It is projected TR-069 deployments will continue to grow, with expansions into other types of devices. Tomorrow will likely bring TR-069 into new consumer devices hitting the home network, including entertainment devices, communication devices, or energy smart appliances. In the future, TVs that support network connections may automatically be configured to retrieve pictures stored on a networkattached storage box. Operators will likely continue to look to TR-069 for management of newly rolled out services, which could include offerings like security monitoring or energy planning.
As the number of TR-069-enabled devices increases, so do demands on testing. Today, most devices managed by TR-069 are provided directly by the service provider. If the market sees TR-069 consumer devices purchased in retail stores instead of supplied by the service provider, testing becomes even more critical. To help support increasing demands on both testing and the diverse array of high-tech devices entering the home, the Broadband Forum launched the BBF.069 Device Certification Program, providing CPE (customerpremise equipment) manufacturers an opportunity to certify their product’s adherence to TR-069. The goal of the program is to bring a new level of highquality TR-069 devices into the market, which expands the selection of devices operators can choose from. By using certified devices, much of the complex testing on the implementation has already been performed, lowering the amount of testing required by each operator.
The BBF.069 Device Certification Program verifies that the CPE’s implementation of the TR-069 protocol conforms to the required standards produced by the Broadband Forum. The current certification test plan, labeled ATP-069, contains 121 test cases, designed to examine each mandatory requirement defined in the specifications. Additionally, a number of optional requirements can be tested, based on the feature set of the specific CPE device.
Connected Home Reality
To facilitate BBF.069 Device Certification testing, the Broadband Forum selected the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) as the official BBF.069 test lab. In July 2012, the UNH-IOL launched the HNC (Home Networking Consortium), providing the broadband industry a one-stop shop for both Broadband Forum BBF.069 testing and IPv6 CPE Ready Logo testing. The testing performed in the HNC reduces time to market for CPE and ensures service providers that devices in the home connect to the networks of the future and can be managed for exceptional customer service.
What tech support calls will I receive from family and friends in five years? In an ideal world, none, as the automatic configuration and management of the home network enabled by the TR-069 protocol will solve many networking challenges. Reality may be closer to turning on the heat at our parents’ house while they’re away on vacation.
Only time will tell what applications or devices gain widespread adoption, but the current trends will back up two assertions. First, those devices will be connected to a type of in-home network. Second, the devices will likely need some level of management.
The UNH-IOL will continue to workwith companies, service providers, andconsumers to make these new technologies,and the connected home, a reality.
Lincoln Lavoie is senior engineer, broadband technologies with University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNHIOL). He can be reached at email@example.com