Benu’s Pitch: Smarten Up The Broadband Pipe

U.S. cable operators have built a sizable broadband subscriber lead by implementing strategies based largely on price and speed, but a startup staffed with telecom engineering veterans believes it is high time for cable and other service providers to bring a new level of smarts to their broadband pipes.

Benu Networks, a company formed in 2010 that counts executives who are late of RiverDelta Networks (a cable-access startup sold to Motorola in 2001), Cisco Systems, Arris and Ciena, emerged from relative stealth mode recently to tout an overarching “virtual” service edge platform that tucks the management and brains of services into the proverbial cloud.

By decoupling the control and data plane, the company has claimed, operators can gain unprecedented visibility into the set-tops, modems, tablets and other devices on their own access networks, as well as those run by others.

The first application from Benu is the Wireless Access Gateway, already enabling a major U.S. cable operator to manage and authenticate the national deployment of a “community” WiFi service that programs an additional, public-facing SSID (service set identifier) in millions of homebound DOCSIS-powered wireless gateways.

Benu isn’t naming that partner, but Comcast, which happens to be one of the company’s investors, and Cablevision Systems are among the domestic operators that have unleashed such strategies.

The vendor is also in lab trials with two North American service providers that Benu is also keeping under wraps for now.

Benu is also keying on a broader set of “virtual consumer premises equipment” applications that give MSOs a way to manage devices on an individual basis. That opens the door to a potential suite of services providing customers guaranteed levels of service on these devices — a tough task to pull off at present, because MSO visibility is typically limited to the gateway, meaning operators are likewise blind to the devices connected to the home network.

Benu said it believes it can provide a similar level of visibility outside the operator’s access network, enabling a new wave of “managed” over-the-top services.

Under Benu’s approach, the subnet of the home is extended one hop into the cloud, giving operators a way to compete beyond just price and speed, in and out of the home, and offer the kind of tailored services that historically have been the domain of the mobile world.

Benu doesn’t know what those “killer apps” will be, but enabling one that can successfully drive an additional $5 of revenue per user is a potential “game changer,” Troy Dixler, Benu’s executive vice president of marketing, said.

Some ideas include cloud-based parentalcontrol services, allowing customers to create and enforce policies for all of the devices a family uses, and smarter cloud-storage services with shared drives for mobile devices as well as set-top boxes.