With myriad applications fighting for limited gigabytes on a mobile broadband plan and multiple users fighting for access to a wired home connection, what broadband users need is a connectivity thermostat that they can use to better manage how they access their ISP’s pipes. It’s coming.
On mobile networks, an undisclosed Tier One carrier is testing a new product released Tuesday from Openet, a company I wrote about last week that helps carriers implement personalized pricing plans. Today it launched a product it calls the Subscriber Engagement Engine (SEE). That sounds intimidating, but what it enables isn’t. SEE is a client that resides on a device such as an iPad, Android phone, or other connected device, and ties it back to the policy management and subscriber information on a carrier network. It acts as a bridge and as a layer of abstraction that allows a user to set up policies for their device on an operator’s network.
A portal to your broadband cloud.
For example you could set it to halt your data consumption when approaching a 5GB cap, or in a more complex scenario, you could tell it to clock your child’s access to Facebook during school hours. This would only work though if the child is using the operator’s cellular network. Once the kid flips over to the school’s Wi-Fi network all bets are off. Michael Manzo, chief marketing officer at Openet, says he uses it to limit his use of data guzzling apps while he’s traveling, such as maps and other data he’s not willing to pay high roaming charges for.
Manzo says for now Openet is marketing the service to wireless operators, because there’s a need, especially given the backlash against unexpectedly high mobile phone bills. But behind Openet’s product is a trend that is emerging as consumers carry many devices and hook up more service-dependent applications such as movie streaming or HD video conferencing to their networks.
The idea of having a broadband cloud inside your home or on the go, that you control make a lot of sense, because it allows the consumers to control a limited resource. Openet’s makes the process of letting the consumer control how they want to use their access easy for an operator to implement by adding a layer of virtualization between the customer and the operator.
Nick Feamster, an associate professor in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, is hoping to do something similar, but he wants to do it inside the home using software defined networks and OpenFlow inside a consumer router. At a recent conference Feamster described Project Bismark, an effort to help users manage their bandwidth caps and allocate broadband resources inside the home.
Two views of the network: smart versus dumb.
As is somewhat usual in these debates over where control should reside in the network, there is a divide in how someone at Openet as opposed to Feamster views the network. Openet wants to let carriers offer these portals as a customer service and perhaps as a revenue-generating product. For example, using the SEE, a cable provider that has switched to IPTV could let customers create their own a la carte channel line up.
However, Feamster’s vision puts the layer of abstraction on a device to allow someone to create a similar portal inside the home. In his case, the network is dumb and the device is smart. Openet has carrier customers it wants to sell its software to, so its positioning is understandable. Feamster would have to convince a router marker to put his innovation inside, which someone like a Netgear might do, but someone like a Cisco, which owns the Linksys brand and has carrier customers, may decline.
Regardless of how this happens, its clear that consumers will soon get a bit more say over how their broadband networks work–both on the go and at home. And that’s something most of us will look forward to.