Cable industry prepares for open competition in IoT services

29 July 2017 by Steve Blum
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Open source and cable industry are terms seldom found in the same sentence. But that’s about to change and it might be a very big deal indeed. CableLabs is the jointly funded, common technical development organisation for the cable industry, worldwide. Its crown jewel is the twenty year old DOCSIS standard, which is the engine that drives data delivery over hybrid fiber-coax systems in the U.S., and most of the the rest of the world. Although widely adopted, it is proprietary to CableLabs and its members – you have to pay for privilege of using it, and you pretty much have to follow the specs as given.

It’s taken a radically different approach to low power, wireless Internet of Things technology, though. There are several solutions kicking around, including the LoRa Alliance, SigFox and an adaptation of LTE technology. CableLabs has chosen LoRa, which takes a similar approach to licensing and certification as the WiFi Alliance. Its not free or open source, but it is a widely available radio frequency (RF) platform that’s optimised for particular kinds of applications: low power, battery-operated devices that need to send signals relatively long distances, say a kilometer or two in cities, and 10 or 20 kilometers in rural areas.

CableLabs developed key layers that sit on top of this basic, RF pathway and handle the actual exchange of data and management of devices in the field. Instead of limiting the use of the technology to its member cable companies, CableLabs has posted the source code and offered it to all comers for free on GitHub, under the very permissive terms of the MIT open source license.

The reason is straightforward, according to Daryl Malas, the principal architect of CableLabs’ advanced technology group

[Low power wide area networks] need to be deployed broadly across national and international regions. This will enable the use of many sensors across these same regions. As we make use of the sensor data, it will enrich our lives with information to make better choices, ensure higher quality results and guide us towards a better future. By making a portion of this network available for open-source, our goal is to lower the barrier for the cable industry and other industry participants to enable these solutions for consumers and governments.

Interoperability and easy access to big data streams will drive IoT business models. CableLabs is giving its cable industry members a shot at owning a big chunk of that market by putting them at the center of what it hopes will be a well-populated ecosystem.