Amdocs Innovations Target M-Screen, Smart Home Spaces

David Jacobs, CTO, Broadband Cable & Satellite Division, Amdocs

David Jacobs, CTO, Broadband Cable & Satellite Division, Amdocs

July 11, 2011 – Amdocs, aided by an aggressive acquisition and partnership campaign, is developing a portfolio of solutions that offer service providers new streamlined approaches to operating multi-screen TV and connected-home services.
 
Amdocs’ most ambitious new project, still a work in progress, is focused on what it’s calling the TV Anywhere Interworking Function as a new layer in service operations that connects traditional IT product-centric management with all the external providers, functionalities and devices essential to supporting a user-centric approach to delivering content. “We’ve been working on this in the background for awhile, taking a very different approach to multi-screen services,” says David Jacobs, CTO for Amdocs’ Broadband Cable and Satellite Division.

Noting the initiative is still “in its early days,” Jacobs says Amdocs aims to create a platform that fully addresses operators’ needs to maximize their revenue potential in an intensely competitive environment. This interworking layer is designed to encompass management of all transactions between end users and the back office; orchestration of all types of metadata; support for advanced navigation across all content sources; implementation of usage and pricing policies; formatting of content and applications for all clients, and quality-of-experience assurance across all devices.

Amdocs’ commitment to building product bridges between traditional IT and new services is also reflected in the company’s new connected-home service, which has reached a more advanced stage of development, as demonstrated at last month’s Cable Show in Chicago. The hosted service employs a white-label home gateway solution provided by M2M Solutions of France to support home security, energy control and health-related applications, says Marwan Afana, director and chief solutions architect for Amdocs jNetX.

jNetX is now the heart of the Convergent Service Platform Amdocs built by combining the service delivery system acquired through its purchase of jNetX in late 2009 with its own customer experience and service delivery solutions. This framework allows service providers to accelerate service development by exposing both IP and traditional cable and telecom network components to operator-controlled service logic, Afana notes.

In the case of the new Amdocs-hosted connected-home service, all devices, including cameras, sensors and even residential gateways, can be connected wirelessly to the M2M gateway. Data collection, analytics, interfaces with specific third-party applications, self-service modules and other functionalities are managed through the cloud.

A universal interface on the gateway, mobile handsets and other devices allows users to manage camera views, security notifications, energy controls and other settings. The system, when interconnected with ZigBee or Z-Wave enabled residential gateways such as set-top boxes and cable modems affords users control over other applications as well, including program recordings and remote playback of authenticated content.

”Our solution is agnostic to the residential gateway,” Afana says. “We extract the functionality from the residential gateway APIs into JavaFlow and create the software that allows you to use that hardware.”

The M2M connected-home controller provides a variety of mechanisms, including SMS, e-mail, fax and voice calls, to alert users to security breaches or other issues. It shifts automatically to backup batteries when power goes out, and if there’s a problem with the broadband connection it shifts to Wi-Fi and from there to cellular connectivity if there’s no external Wi-Fi link. The device broadcasts audio messages to notify users when any of these changes occur.

“The service provider can enable whatever services they choose,” Jacobs says. “Some may be only interested in offering security; others may want to focus on health or energy. We propose a monthly service model with fees tied to the various service options.”

Amdocs offers SPs a revenue-sharing option as a way to lower startup costs, he adds. Then the costs are just what the SP has to spend for device integration plus the revenue share on an ongoing basis.

In developing the TV Anywhere bridging product for multi-screen services Amdocs is intent on creating a platform that supports all the functionalities operators require in their efforts to increase the lifetime value of customers, Jacobs says. “The real challenge all operators face is scarcity of customers,” he notes. “Trust is the primary differentiator that operators can leverage to build value.”

That means giving subscribers what they want with maximum dependability, ease of use and ubiquitous accessibility. Amdocs has designed the TV Anywhere Interworking Function as a modular aggregation of subsystems which operators can tap on an as-needed basis.

“The transaction subsystem is the only must-have element to the platform,” Jacobs explains. “This is the core element you need to integrate with your product-centric IT environment, including your existing billing, provisioning and other OSS (operations support system) components.”

But, in most cases, SPs will find they need many of the other TV Anywhere subsystems as well. A case in point is the subsystem known as 360◦ User Catalog, which collapses libraries of content users have access to from all sources, including third-party offerings, digital lockers, personal media and premium linear and on-demand services. “This is our metadata cruncher,” Jacobs says, adding that authentication and authorization modules are part of this subsystem as well.

As in the case of the Converged Service Framework developed through acquisition of jNetX, Amdocs has relied on acquisitions of outside suppliers to enable development of some of the TV Anywhere subsystems. For example, the company has adapted the multi-platform mobile device applications distribution capabilities developed by Streamezzo, a company it acquired over a year ago, to support the Device Abstraction subsystem required for formatting content, advertising and applications for distribution to all devices.

“We take away the fragmentation problem with divergent OSs by supporting about a thousand different devices on an ongoing basis,” Jacobs says. “Manufacturers tell us when they’re revising software, and our compliance program releases the updates to our customers’ libraries.”

The Device Abstraction subsystem also has implications for the support of another subsystem, the Offer and Commerce Manager, when it comes to maintaining uniform presentations on all devices. “We hide all the complexities while allowing you to design your own interfaces,” Jacobs says.

Amdocs’ Promotion, Recommend and Search subsystem is another component leveraging an acquisition, in this case the recommendation engine developed by ChangingWorlds, which was purchased in 2008. This is another case where a mobile-specific application has been transformed to support the TV Anywhere model on all devices. “This includes the ability to extend recommendations into social media applications,” Jacobs notes.

The other TV Anywhere subsystems are Charging and Policy and Qualify of Experience Manager. In what promises to drive expansion of the Charging and Policy subsystem capabilities, Amdocs has agreed to acquire Bridgewater Systems, a provider of policy, subscriber management and network control solutions for mobile and convergent service providers,

Bridgewater’s solutions combined with Amdocs’ convergent charging technology would provide a holistic view of the customer hierarchy across multiple devices, lines of business and networks. This would enable service providers to completely redefine the real-time data experience and their approach to monetizing and optimizing data services, notes Amdocs Group President Brian Shepherd. “It is a continuation of our strategy to support service providers as they seek to transform their businesses in anticipation of new market opportunities like 4G and machine-to-machine, and in response to clear threats, such as the data explosion,” Shepherd says.

Intriguingly, the QoE Manager subsystem provides cable operators a way around the service assurance conundrum raised by multi-device services. While MSOs have long relied on the DOCSIS service assurance capabilities embodied in use of the Simple Network Management Protocol, they must come up with a way to manage devices beyond the gateway modem to provide the QoE essential to delivering premium services.

This requirement has prompted implementation of the Broadband Forum’s TR-069 device management system into new cable modems and gateways. But this introduces back-office complexities that have raised concerns within the operator community.

The solution offered through the Amdocs QoE Manager avoids the need for adding another protocol by incorporating per-device QoE management directly into the TV Anywhere management platform, Jacobs says. “We’re able to query end user devices to determine how they are rendering content,” he explains. “Our device abstraction expertise allows us to put the QoE client on any type of device, collect the information and deliver it back into the TV Anywhere platform.”

Jacobs declines to give a date certain for general availability of the TV Anywhere platform. But, given rising demand for comprehensive multi-device service solutions, the company isn’t likely to wait too much longer before it brings these capabilities to market.