The Challenge before DSPs
Digital Service Providers (DSPs) – including broadband, television, communications, and wireless service providers – must assume an expanded role in the digital home. They are facing competitive threats from both fellow DSPs and alternatives to the services they have provided for decades (voice, video, data services, communications, etc.). From Vonage to Google, the DSP have more competitive challenges today (and risk to their bottom-line profitability) than ever before, and they must work harder and smarter than previously to keep their own customers happy and to differentiate from their competitors.

There is a duality to their position, though, as DSPs operate in a risk/opportunity paradigm. The digital home opportunity is a significant “greenfield” area of development. With hundreds of millions of households worldwide establishing the basic connection points to enable multidevice connectivity, it is an open field as to which companies can most successfully mine this new opportunity.

The DSP will leverage two-way communications (operator to the home and device-to-device in and around the home) to build new services, increase customer satisfaction, and grow revenue per subscriber (ARPU), doing so through deployment of home network equipment and delivering connected home applications spanning entertainment, communications, technical support, and home, health, and energy management.

As history has shown, the digital home is not yet a “set-it-and-forget-it” experience for consumer or service provider. Instead of a world where all IP-connected devices easily self-configure, announce their capabilities, share similar interfaces, and function with out-of-the-box ease, installation is typically fraught with trial-and-error, missteps, and – to the detriment of the DSP – a customer support call.

In other words, as DSPs pursue digital home opportunities, they must consider the impact to their brand, customer service, and overall revenues. Particularly important are the processes to connect and configure services and devices. These tasks must be accomplished in a much more automated way, and DSPs must manage solutions in a significantly more granular manner than what they have done in the past.

The Digital Home Components
The digital home is comprised of the following elements:

Access services: Facilities-based services, including broadband, pay-TV, communications, and wireless services

Content: Can be facilities-based (such as pay-TV) or “over-the-top,” including music, video, gaming, and user-created content that comes into the home to be accessed via numerous platforms
The residential gateway: Broadband and triple-play DSPs are using residential gateways in increasing numbers to terminate broadband access services, to help configure and manage home network settings, and reduce or prevent customer support calls; they are also launching points for new connected home services

Pay-TV services: As pay-TV providers face increasing competition from new entrants and alternatives (such as free-to-air and online programming), their connected home efforts are focused on allowing subscribers to access content and unique services in new ways; examples of such efforts include the whole-home DVR, availability of online video content to television sets, and use of the home network to bring user-generated or home server-based content to the television screen; TV Everywhere initiatives currently provide cable television channels to Internet-connected devices, but the pay-TV DSP’s premium content is finding its way to a growing number of retail-based CE (game consoles, smart TVs, connected Blu-ray players, smartphones, tablet computers, and more)

Communications: Advanced customer premise equipment, such as the femtocell, improves wireless signal quality in the house and can serve as a distribution point for information and content on a wireless network to other devices and systems in the home

Mobile devices: The proliferation of smartphones and tablets expands the DSP’s reach beyond communications and into mobile applications for entertainment and home and lifestyle management; DSPs are interested in making TV Everywhere content available to mobile devices and leveraging these devices as control points for advanced television services or home and lifestyle management features

Connected consumer electronics: These retail- and DSP-deployed CE, including smart TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles, and Web-enabled set-top boxes, can play a dual role; they can be pure “over-the-top” plays and have Web applications that receive content from unmanaged services; there is also increasing development of CE that link to premium managed services from television providers

Technical support: In growing numbers, consumers are seeking out professional technical support services to help resolve problems with home computers, peripherals, and home networks; these services can be delivered via multiple channels and DSPs are now delivering premium technical support to complement their broadband and wireless businesses

Home and Lifestyle Management: The DSP role in home and lifestyle management is nebulous at present, but there is growing interest in leveraging broadband and wireless networks as the communications infrastructure between a smart meter and a utility to report real-time energy consumption information to the customer; also, DSPs – particularly in Europe – are interested in pursuing value-added applications that allow consumers to self-monitor their home for safety and security purposes; detection and reporting of environment hazards such as smoke and carbon monoxide can be implemented, and remote control of lighting, energy management devices and systems, and appliances may also be significant features

Critical success factors for DSPs deploying connected home devices and services:
How effective they are in deploying and managing their core services – with dynamic service provisioning, quality-of-service assurances, seamless billing and activation, and service and customer management as key tenets to high-quality delivery;

Focusing efforts on “zero touch” service/device provisioning and billing, where the installation of both customer premise equipment (CPE: typically defines products such as modems, residential gateways, set-top boxes, eMTA terminals, etc.) and retail-purchased consumer electronics can be automated, with few, if any, configuration frustrations;
How well they can deploy value-added services to segments of their subscriber base; and
How efficiently they can scale their connected home service deployments to account for devices beyond the residential gateway – set-top boxes, network-attached storage devices, and other retail-purchased consumer electronics.

Stage 1: Service and Device Activation
The digital home opportunity for DSPs begins with the basics – service provisioning and activation. Here the DSP establishes the appropriate connections to the PC, sets up e-mail accounts, and introduces the customer to the DSP-branded portal, which can host e-mail, entertainment services, and customer support information. The DSP goal is to bring service and device activation to the customer in the easiest way possible with the minimal amount of configuration.

During the initial home network setup, DSPs have the opportunity to add value by enabling basic home network configuration tools. Why? Because a growing portion of their customers expect it!

Today, less than one-half of U.S. households with a home network have a configuration where printers and centralized files are accessible to multiple devices on the home network. The DSP could be significant player in changing these dynamics. The demand for enhanced home network configurations is 30-150 percent higher in households that are already receiving at least a basic (broadband-sharing) home network from their service provider when compared to networked households in general.

This demand is an opportunity for a service provider to provide branded home network configuration tools that enhance their customer support credentials. Such services can build loyalty and establish the service provider as the go-to entity for additional home technical support services, which operators can build into new revenue-generating services.

Worldwide smartphone connections will be 400 million by 2014.
Beyond broadband services and customer premise equipment, DSPs can play a more active role in the activation and proper configuration of wireless devices, including smartphones and tablets. With worldwide smartphone connections approaching 400 million by year-end 2014, these devices will have active roles as controllers, entertainment displays, and communications platforms blending fixed and mobile connections (voice-over-Wi-Fi and femtocells).

In order to facilitate both efficiency and scale for service and device activation, DSPs will need activation solutions that provide both minimal configuration and the ability to reach a variety of devices beyond the modem, residential gateway, and/or the set-top box. In other words, as consumers add more devices to the home network, providers need solutions that can scale to include these new devices with little to no reconfiguration requirements.

Stage 2: Value-added Services
Bundling of core access services – broadband, television, home phone and mobile – increases customer satisfaction. Depending on the number of services on the bundle, the percentage of consumers indicating very high satisfaction improves anywhere from 10 to 20 percent (overall, 62 percent of broadband subscribers are highly satisfied with their service).

Bundling value-added services within a DSP’s core offerings may have an even more significant impact on customer satisfaction. In examining consumers who receive a typical value-added services package (a home network router/ residential gateway, parental controls, Internet security, and access to premium tech support, to name a few), the percentage of customers giving their broadband service provider high ratings for satisfaction figure rises to 80 percent!

Beyond bundling, however, which value-added services will play the greatest role in both improving customer satisfaction and loyalty and contributing to new revenue streams? Parks Associates research finds that the presence of exclusive entertainment content (video and music offerings for example), home networks, and a variety of customer support and assistance offerings (data backup, premium technical support, parental controls, and managed Internet security) increases the percentage of highly satisfied broadband customers by 8 to 18 percent.

Bundling services can improve customer satisfaction rates by 10-20 percent.
With proper activation of services and devices, DSPs are able to deliver both core and value-added services features in a proactive and cost-effective manner. Many customers sign up initially for a few basic services – perhaps just a broadband connection. However, as service providers roll out new services (voice-over-IP, IPTV, Web camera monitoring, etc.), these companies not only want to activate the accompanying hardware but make sure the back-end systems (billing) are notified if/when the customer has activated the service and should be billed accordingly.

Stage 3: Tech Support for OPEX Savings & Revenue Generation
With the increased number of devices being added to the home network comes the risk that customer support calls will grow substantially. In fact, one-quarter of consumers reporting a networking-related problem contacted their broadband service provider for assistance, regardless of where they purchased the home networking equipment. Assuming that support calls for home networking alone will remain on their current trajectory, the cost to DSPs will total in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. DSPs must implement solutions that provide for more automated, remote, and dynamic resolution of device and service configuration issues.

Remote management of the customer premise equipment such as modems, set-top boxes, and home networking equipment offers service providers a number of benefits. First, service providers can offer online technical support, solving CPE problems using remote diagnostics tools that can repair problems without the need for a customer support call or service appointment. Second, remote management of CPE allows service providers to increase the quality-of-service (QoS) for customers by intelligently managing network traffic.

The ability to intelligently manage the network is especially important as service providers anticipate the adoption of next-generation services such as VoIP and IPTV. Ensuring QoS is essential to maintaining subscriber satisfaction and reducing churn. Without QoS, a scenario in which one household member’s VoIP suffers from pauses while another family member downloads a file is highly possible. That same scenario would cause a delay in video, and customers will not tolerate these service problems.

Support calls for home networking could cost DSPs hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Finally, remote management capabilities allow service providers to update CPE firmware and software remotely. This ability is particularly critical with video-related services, for which remotely enabled firmware and software upgrades deliver QoS for smooth voice conversations and video viewing. Customers may be willing to put up with a slight “crackle” on a phone call or a small delay in receiving an e-mail, but a bad image during the big football game can ruin a good viewing party!

Cost savings is often the initial driver pushing service providers and equipment vendors to implement automated support initiatives. Reduction in calls is a key metric in evaluating the effectiveness of an integrated customer support solution, and reducing call volume by a mere 10 percent can be considered a resounding success by today’s standards. However, cost savings may be only one of the reasons for service providers to evolve from reactive to proactive entities. Broadband providers can implement technical support services that not only allow them to manage their incoming technical support calls but also can develop fee-based businesses to handle a variety of technical support issues.

Consumers respond favourably to the idea of receiving services such as PC tune-ups, virus detection and removal, home network support, peripheral problem resolution, and help with common PC applications from their DSP. Three-fourths of consumers also indicate a preference for receiving a variety of technical support services from a single vendor, which bodes well for the DSP, which can bundle the cost of premium care services onto the customer’s existing monthly bill.

The top technical support services of interest to consumers:

Antivirus/Internet security services: Managed services from broadband providers that detect and remove malicious software from home computers. These services typically have service provider-generated alerts that inform users of new security threats, security tips, and troubleshooting.
Parental Controls: Common parental control services offer filters to prevent children from accessing inappropriate content online. Additional features typically include restrictions to chat/instant messaging sites, file-sharing blocking, day-and-time restriction scheduling, and monitoring and logging of Internet habits for parents to review.
Online data backup services: Automatically copy documents, photos, and videos from home computers to a service hosted on the Internet.
Live technical support services: automated, telephone, and online solutions include remote and on-site support services

Stage 4: New Connections & Services
Services spanning communications, entertainment, home and health monitoring, and energy management will drive the majority of new home network connections in the next few years. With the digital home infrastructure in place, connected devices will grow quickly beyond the residential gateway, router, and wireless access point.

This evolution of the digital home includes consumer electronics, home controls, and communications nodes and represents a significant opportunity for DSPs to play a role in the configuration and management of the home network.

The first opportunity will be to support the proper configuration of more basic home networking settings, providing consumers with the ability to augment the basic functionality of the home network. Enhancing the usability of the home network by helping consumers establish proper settings for printer and file sharing across devices is the first step.

As consumers buy more connected and smart CE, there will be a greater need to bring these devices into the home network configuration and provide at least basic management functionality to ensure a high quality of experience, particularly in their use as video playback devices.

To account for the variety of consumer desires, as well as regional differences as to which digital home features matter most, DSPs need flexible activation, provisioning, and monitoring solutions that are capable of providing support for a great many devices and services.

DSPs need to extend their reach further into their subscribers’ homes via set-top boxes, residential gateways, and femtocells – and expand to new devices and services, including Web-enabled consumer electronics, mobile devices, and monitoring and control solutions. Operators can take advantage of connected CE to launch home networking, online storage, remote DVR scheduling, and other types of advanced services. Providing managed digital home services can be either a revenue generator or a differentiating factor for service bundles. Home services and blended applications which “converge” entertainment and communications offer the potential to grow ARPU significantly.

Summary Thoughts
Our recommendations for DSPs as they evaluate different customer support solutions include the following:

The solution must enable granular metrics and provide a roadmap for extensions. Data and metrics matter to the service provider, and any customer support solution must account for these numbers from all links in their service portfolio – including home networking equipment or other digital lifestyle equipment. The mantra from service providers is metrics equals management, so the solution must fit well with existing and emerging standards for remote management, including TR-069.

The solution must also allow for the migration of applications, including minute and localized measurement. The ability to pull specific data about quality-of-service (packet loss, latency, etc.) from individual set-top boxes and other entertainment receivers is a critical next step to many remote management systems offerings. Tools that enhance the provider’s ability to analyze and aggregate data will also be important to mining the data for new opportunities for cost reduction or revenue generation.

The solution must scale to consumers’ changing needs. In initial rollouts of enhanced customer support solutions, the majority of subscribers will be content with significant amounts of automation in terms of troubleshooting and self-help. Most do not want to be involved in the process of diagnosis or repair; some will not want to know about a problem, only that their equipment and services are working as promised.

However, as customers grow more accustomed to their service provider as an experience provider and even a trusted digital home advisor, the solution must take into account the likelihood that customers will want to customize its use to fit their particular lifestyle. The service provider may not want to remain a hidden fixer; there may be significant value in branding certain aspects of customer care.

On a simple level, this branding may entail something like proactive messaging in the form of e-mail or instant message that alerts customers to new virus outbreaks and offers solutions. On a more advanced level, the carrier may want to deploy a customer-facing and subscription- or fee-based support solution and value-added service that extend its basic offerings.

Kurt Scherf studies developments in home networks, residential gateways, digital entertainment services, consumer electronics, and digital home technical support services. Kurt is the sole author or contributing author/analyst to more than 100 research reports and studies produced by Parks Associates since 1998.

Kurt joined Parks Associates following a career in political research and multi-tenant dwelling management. He earned his BA from The University of Iowa. Industry Expertise: Home Networks & Residential Gateways, Home Networking Media, Settop Boxes, Connected Consumer Electronics, Consumer Storage, Media Server Hardware and Software, Consumers and Digital Entertainment, Television Services, Online Video, Digital Home Technical Support.

Parks Associates is an internationally recognized market research and consulting company specializing in emerging consumer technology products and services. Founded in 1986, Parks Associates creates research capital for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to small start-ups through market reports, primary studies, consumer research, custom research, workshops, executive conferences, and annual service subscriptions.

The company’s expertise includes new media, digital entertainment and gaming, home networks, Internet and television services, digital health, mobile applications and services, consumer electronics, energy management, and home control systems and security.

Each year, Parks Associates hosts executive thought leadership conferences CONNECTIONS™, with support from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) ®, CONNECTIONS™ Europe, and Smart Energy Summit.