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vCPE: No Longer Just a Pipe Dream

The industry trend towards network function virtualization (NFV) is no longer just a nice idea for the future — it’s the reality we’re living in. The simple concept of decoupling software from hardware is giving service providers new ways to differentiate their services from straggling competitors. One of the most acclaimed forms of this trend is virtualizing the functions that control and manage customer premises equipment, or as it’s commonly called, vCPE (virtual customer premises equipment).

But where do service providers gain the most value from vCPE? And what effects will this have on subscriber QoE (quality of experience)? Let’s explore some key concepts and benefits enabled by this innovative technology:

CAPEX reduction: Many communication service providers are currently using legacy gateway devices, and as a result, have strict limitations on the products and services which can be rolled out to the subscriber. vCPE enables operators to define new products and services with these existing devices, reducing new hardware CAPEX spend in certain instances. vCPE further empowers operators in their CPE vendor selection process by accelerating new device selection and approval processes, making all vendor devices effectively equivalent to both purchasing and engineering departments.

Simplify the network: By taking network functions back into a control plane, operators have the ability to standardize user interfaces for administrators and customer service representatives (CSRs). This creates a simplified console for performing everyday tasks like service activation, package updates, and issue resolution. vCPE also gives the ability to orchestrate new feature updates to multiple devices with varying standards, because functions are not completely reliant on proprietary hardware builds.

Reduce OPEX: Aside from the operational benefits of standardized processes, vCPE can streamline issue resolution times. One of the most costly aspects of the operator's business today is the call center. Usually, CSRs are given tight performance targets to minimize the time on call with a customer. When issues cannot be solved remotely, they typically result in a dispatch call to a field technician — creating an even higher expense. vCPE increases visibility into the subscriber’s gateway and the wired or wireless devices connected to it. This translates to better service monitoring and faster remote issue resolution. Most importantly, the key functions of the subscriber gateway are now fully within the CSR control, working to minimize future truck rolls.

Enhance QoE: Service options tailored to meet the needs of each subscriber are already prevalent throughout many major online players, like Amazon, Google, etc. But to this point, communication services have lagged behind. vCPE can be chained in various permutations, giving flexibility over subscriber packages like never before. This can include things like activating select premium services, per-user quota policies, optimized bandwidth speeds during specific time blocks, or even enhanced security features. The personalization of the subscriber experience is a radical aspect of vCPE solutions, and right now the sky’s the limit for new innovation.

Back Office Integration: One of the most significant challenges operators face when introducing new services is the integration with current back-office systems. A new set of interfaces are introduced with NFV-orchestrated services. The ideal vCPE platform understands the Network Function Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI) integration dependencies, as well as traditional operator northbound billing and related OSS requirements.

With the right vCPE solution on their side, operators can begin a smooth transition into a hybrid environment where virtual functions control network and device options while still leveraging hardware innovations that assist with things like WiFi range and increased bandwidth speed and capacity. Communication service providers stand to gain a lot from virtual technologies.

Are you ready?

-Chris Busch is the chief innovation officer of Incognito Software Systems