Tech Roundtable 2017: The Home of the Future

The 2017 Tech Roundtable Panelists
Kevin Hart, executive vice president and chief product and technology officer, Cox Communications
Dan Hennessy, chief architecture architect, Liberty Global
Jay Rolls, chief technology officer and senior vice president, Charter Communications
JR Walden, senior vice president of technology and CTO, Mediacom Communications
Tony Werner, president of technology and product, Comcast Cable

Read More From the 2017 Tech Roundtable Agenda
Capacity|Mobile & WirelessBeyond Speeds and Feeds and Attracting Talent

MCN: To what extent are you gearing up to automate people’s homes to make them more useful?
Dan Hennessy: Our automation focus is very much linked to our core products and services, and where we can bring clear value right now: Voice search and control of our video services. Ensuring that all our platforms work in harmony. Installing new hardware in the home, like WiFi APs, such that it happens seamlessly. Giving customers a way to easily onboard third party IoT devices in their home.

What’s as important here is the business logic we’re building in our back office for “connectivity services.” It’s similar to what we’ve done for our video products and services, in terms of having a flexible, microservices-based back end that is open to third party integration.

JR Walden: We're an Icontrol affiliate [Comcast and bought pieces of Icontrol earlier this year]. It hasn’t been a huge business for us. I think we have concerns that trying to compete with CE companies in that going to be tough for Icontrol, let alone Mediacom.

We want to be a service provider. We think we're good at being a service provider, so what’s the service here? We imagine providing some services to help facilitate and manage the customer's smart home and IoT device future. I don't know if we'll manage the service as a whole...but we think there's a place to play there. Like maybe you could use your Amazon Echo to do things on your TiVo set-top box...rather than using the remote or using a voice remote.

Rather than trying to be the guy who does everything, let's work with what people want, even if Google Home is the device or it's an Amazon device. We’re going to come out with a voice remote, too, that works with Nuance [Communications].

Kevin Hart: We're making great advances in our connected home and smart home platforms. We’re leveraging the existing platform, but we've also got other future-state possibilities, and coupling the Cox HomeLife platform offering with our Panoramic WiFi [product]. We've been going market to market and connecting a home and making it a true smart home with over 50 or so connected devices in the home, and virtual reality and home care demos, robotic dogs, you name it. We're also doing a little bit some remote healthcare monitoring. There's a lot of possibilities here and I think we're just scratching the surface of the industry.

Tony Werner: With the combination of xFi and Xfinity Home we think we’re in an ideal position to give our customers a simple one-stop solution for controlling their connected homes. With xFi, we take the mystery and guesswork out of our customers’ home WiFi networks, providing a real-time dashboard of what devices are on the network and how they are performing. With Xfinity Home, we’ve combined a powerful home security solution, with an increasingly integrated IoT hub. Through our “Works With Xfinity” program, our customers can control their Nest thermostats, August locks, Chamberlin garage door openers, and many other popular IoT devices all from their Xfinity Home app. We are continuously bringing more partners onto the platform. On the backend, we’re leveraging machine learning and our own homegrown rules engine to give our customers more pinpoint control over how their connected homes work.

MCN: In what ways is AI and machine learning guiding your technology strategy?
DH: AI and ML already exist in our businesses in a number of different areas -- both embedded in our products and services, and also as part of a number of new avenues we’re investigating. Not just customer facing, but for operational and engineering analytics use cases, too.

We’re using machine learning, for instance, to help us fine tune our understanding of how WiFi performs in our customer’s homes. RF modeling, and knowing those behaviors, can get us so far. Adding in telemetry from our devices in the field, and ML in the backend infrastructure, takes our insights to the next level.

Additionally, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and the associated AI is already deployed as part of our voice search and personalization services. We see much more applicability here in the front lines of our business, where interactions across 24 million customers can be tailored much more accurately.

The key with AI and ML is telemetry and data management. To leverage these techniques, we need to be able to collect and analyze data. From that, we can affect changes back into our services and infrastructure -- whether this is across the network, our service platforms, or our care and operational support systems.

A big step in the right direction is to understand the art of the possible. We’re starting to innovate with partners, internally. We’ve started with multiple trials, and some first deployments as well.

Jay Rolls: Both AI and ML will play an increasing role across our technology stacks, from network management to troubleshooting to connecting customers with the content they want. I think as our networks become denser and more complex, adding more intelligence will help us mine data that matters to the overall success of the businesses.

MCN: What does the Internet of Things mean to your company?
KH: From a product standpoint, some of the analytics that are built into the products, whether they’re visual analytics or voice analytics are making the products more intelligent and more personal. The voice remote stuff is cool on the front end, but having contacts and predicting your next couple moves in the connected home are a big part of what you'll see more and more of on the product roadmap.

From a technology operational network perspective, there's things we are doing with software-defined networking and some of the intelligence we’re building in through software and quality of service and latency. And from an operational perspective, doing more and more with some of the artificial intelligence around quality of service, call-in rates and truck roll reduction and customer experience. It's early days, but we've seen some very promising results.

JR: Whether it’s ensuring security and privacy, or connecting customers to specific capabilities, like health monitoring and wellness -- the IoT scene, which our customers are bringing onto our networks by the handfuls, enables us to take a customer-centric approach. The key to the IoT and our industry is that it’s based on the common denominator of connectivity.

TW: We are committed to AI and machine learning, because we’ve seen firsthand how those technologies can make our products better and improve the customer experience. We use AI and Machine Learning algorithms today to advance and refine our Natural Language Processing platform, detect and fix incidents in our network, and help our customers find content they love. We’ve got a first-rate team of PhDs working on these technologies day and night, and customers are already seeing that reflected in the products they use every day.

DH: Opportunity, more than anything. We’re seeing an explosion in connected devices, for sure, and the need for seamless onboarding, increased visibility, control, configuration and management. This is a key consideration as we think about how we develop our connectivity products and services.

Our customers rely on us to ensure their home network is secure, effective, and above all, is just there. Available. The key will be which devices and services our customers bring into their homes. The IoT market remains fragmented, from a service and technology standards point of view (Sigfox, LoRa, NB-IoT etc.) We’re experimenting with most of these.

We also see many new partnership possibilities opening up, with both established and new players. The IoT landscape brings in very diverse industries -- from lighting, to kitchen goods, home security and other utilities. How these will play out, and where the value and roles lie, is still a work in progress.

Beyond residential, we’re seeing plenty of interest in the B2B segment. We have a number of trials with home builders and commercial real estate firms, where mutual opportunities exist. Whether it’s environmental sensors and control, WiFi coverage and management, broader sensor and device onboarding, or management.

MCN: What matters when the task is securing the physical home, as well as the digital stuff in it?
TW: One of our over-arching product goals is to provide equipment and services that behave like a courteous guest in the home. Always there, always on, always connected, and pleasing to the eye, but also always on the lookout. Our Xfinity Home product started out as a physical home security offering, and quickly expanded into automation and smart home. A big part of that overall philosophy is to safeguard for both physical belongings, and digital identities.

JR: It’s a one-word answer: Trust. We’re in a unique position, because we are poised to protect between the physical, and the digital. As IP-connected devices proliferate, in the home and the business, we are becoming the trusted entity. Both for reliable service, as well as stewards of security.

DH: Trust is key here, of course – with an operational model that truly supports the offering. In both residential and B2B markets, local regulation and standards compliance will influence our interest and ability to enter this market. We also don’t see (for now) the same degree of demand as we see in other markets (notably North America) for these services.