Smart home gateways reinvented for the IoT generation

Monday, 12th June 1837 is a significant date in the telecommunications industry. On that day William Fothergill Cooke, along with Charles Wheatstone, a professor at King’s College London, were granted a patent for an invention that would ultimately become the basis for all digital wired communications. They invented the electric telegraph. Following the success of the technology, initially within the flourishing railway sector, they went on to become founders of The Electric Telegraph Company, of which British Telecom (now just called BT) is a direct descendant.

William Fothergill Cooke, co-inventor of the Electric Telegraph

BT Innovation 2017

Spool forwards a mere 180 years.  BT selected the week commencing 12th June 2017 to host their Innovation 2017 technology showcase and celebrate this noteworthy anniversary.

The event saw over 5,000 telecoms professionals converge on Adastral Park in Suffolk – BT’s worldwide centre for research and innovation – to experience first-hand the technological advances being made within the communications industry. With more than 50 exhibitors and over 100 technology experts on hand from BT’s Research and Innovation groups, plus several invited companies, the event offered a superb opportunity for guests to learn about future trends across a diverse range of topics from agile networking through to advanced IoT security.

Security as standard: The Trust Continuum

Along with one of our key security partners, Intercede, who are driving the work in prpl Foundation’s Trust Continuum group, Imagination exemplified how hardware virtualization, secure hypervisors and Intercede’s chain of trust combine to create advanced home gateway architectures that are hardened to cope with the predicted tsunami of IoT devices.

Representatives from Intercede and Imagination presenting in the Cyber Security zone

Stationed within the Cyber Security zone of the exhibition hall, we demonstrated a dual-core MIPS P5600 SoC running hardware-enforced trusted runtime environments underpinning the security of Kernkonzept’s L4Re hypervisor, coupled with secure IDs and the chain of trust created by Intercede’s MyTAM product.

This unique combination presents operators like BT with a massively flexible and scalable environment in which they can replace several IoT hubs with virtualized equivalents in the home gateway and then manage all networks – or more succinctly the finite radio spectrum – across the smart home.  This confers the added advantage of placing operators in control of all software and services running within the customer’s premises, providing a single point of contact for their customers, while simultaneously creating opportunity for monetisation of those services through new business models with third-parties such as IoT service providers.

Benefits all round: flexibility, security and reliability

One of the major business benefits is the ability to offer a broader choice of IoT services.  This becomes possible because the software is containerised and isolated on the home gateway; it no longer requires integration with the central core broadband gateway software and therefore can be developed, tested and certified in isolation.  This also yields an accelerated time to market because smaller software units are easier to develop and test.

Meanwhile increased service reliability is achieved through optimised networking: separate IoT hubs are removed and instead are integrated directly into the home gateway, which then manages a superset of networking services across the home. So you now have single instances of Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Thread and others, each of which can be used jointly and severally by the secure, virtualized environments running the services, with the hypervisor managing which network resources are allocated to each software stack.

New home gateway architecture combining MIPS hardware virtualization and Intercede’s MyTAM. It’s a win-win situation, with the operator able to benefit through optimisation of services and the IoT provider able to hit profitability more quickly, no longer having to deliver and manage additional hardware in the form of IoT hubs. Add to this the enhanced security plus faster time-to-market advantage afforded by the new architecture, and you have a solution that everyone can endorse.

Virtualizing IoT hubs improves radio spectrum utilisation and places the operator in control.

This unique architecture delivers total service flexibility, fully managed by the operator; it provides unparalleled application security and life-cycle management all underpinned by hardware virtualization, and it creates trusted, certified services secured end-to-end from gateway to cloud.

At the event, our solution received a lot of interest and endorsement from several attendees; they immediately recognised the challenges presented by IoT and identified with our proposition. Staff from Intercede and Imagination were on hand to answer questions and present the demonstration. We were busy throughout the entire week and I recall we only enjoyed respite of about 20 minutes without someone visiting our stand to learn about the technology (and that only happened because we were competing with a free lunch!).

Simon Forrest explains the benefits of virtualization to an engaged audience at BT Innovation 2017

All in all, BT hosted a brilliant event and it is certainly one that should be on your calendar when it returns in 2019.  By then you’ll see new gateways built around MIPS SoCs, and each making use of the virtualization and security technologies.

More information

For those that couldn’t make it to the event, you might like to read my previous post on how we believe the architecture for gateways must evolve. Meantime, further information on hardware virtualization can be found here:

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