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Cable industry thinking hard about smart home technology

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Cable industry thinking hard about smart home technology

? Security remains a major barrier limiting broader adoption of smart home technology.

? The biggest barrier to implementation of security standards is inertia.

? The industry is reaching a turning point where internet of things device security is starting to be looked upon as a feature and not just an added cost.

Though certain smart home products have proven popular, such as smart speakers and connected thermostats, U.S. consumers have been slow to embrace a full-featured smarter home. Part of the challenge seems to be the array of connected home services offered by various companies, whether it is network operators, homebuilders, big-box retailers or residential security companies. Another major challenge, however, is security. To help solve these problems, CableLabs, the cable industry's not-for-profit research lab, along with its commercial subsidiary Kyrio, actively participate in a number of standards groups that cover different verticals of smart devices for the internet of things.

By working in these groups, CableLabs — whose member companies include Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Altice USA Inc., among others and Kyrio look to define industry standards that allow different companies in a multivendor ecosystem to create products that interoperate and communicate in a secure manner. S&P Global Market Intelligence spoke to Kyrio President and General Manager Mitch Ashley about these efforts. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

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Kyrio President and General Manager Mitch Ashley
Source: CableLabs

S&P Global Market Intelligence: Why are smart homes an important area of focus for the cable industry?

Mitch Ashley: Cable operators provide broadband internet service to 132.4 million households globally today. In order to manage IoT devices in the home and the services they enable, those devices need always on, broadband network connectivity to cloud management services and mobile devices.

What has CableLabs witnessed as some barriers to adoption?

Implementation of security has been one of the biggest challenges to adoption of standards and driving interoperability. Cybersecurity is not a core competency for most device manufacturers. As a result, it can be very confusing to understand how to properly implement security and even more so to have that fit in established hardware manufacturing flows.

Economics is also another barrier. A security solution must not only be reasonably robust, it must also be economically feasible for a small device manufacturer to include in their products. Hardware margins are not very large so any increase in cost must be incremental and provide enough value to justify a price increase to cover the cost.

The biggest barrier to implementation of security standards is inertia. Doing nothing costs nothing, but it also does not address the growing threat of unsecured IoT devices in homes throughout the world.

What role does CableLabs play in improving security around smart home devices and networks?

By working in standards groups and enabling commercial solutions through Kyrio, CableLabs is improving security by gaining broad industry adoption of common standards and working with those adopters to develop solutions that are secure, economical and fit in hardware manufacturing flows. And, by aggregating the volume of the multiple IoT ecosystems, Kyrio is able to reduce the cost of implementation for these security standards.

I feel like I have asked a lot about devices or hardware, but less about software and network management tools. Can you discuss the opportunity and/or innovations originating from the cable industry on that front?

CableLabs is very active in software, including leading and contributing to open source software [aimed at accelerating the adoption of network virtualization and allowing] operators to develop self-service provisioning tools so that customers can add or change services on their own. There's also the Kyrio [network functions virtualization] Interop lab, where developers can test interoperability in a network environment against certified cable access network technology.

Then there are software tools like Proactive Network Maintenance. PNM is a constant and rigorous inspection of the network to look for the causes of a failure, before that failure occurs, where impending failure conditions are detected and followed by remediation before problems become evident to users.

As part of its security offerings, Kyrio provides a software code signing service. This service allows for device manufacturers, operators and ecosystems to provide secure updates and execution of software in their networked devices. So, in addition to enabling secure connectivity and access control, we are also helping to secure the code that runs on networked devices.

Are there any new business models or trends on the smart home front we should be watching for?

We believe that we are reaching a turning point where IoT device security is starting to be looked upon as a feature and not just an added cost. With more devices being network connected, there is growing scrutiny by purchasers of IoT devices on the security mechanisms included in those devices. This is particularly true of commercial, industrial and medical IoT industry verticals.