With the entire world consumed by COVID-19 news the past few months, it would be entirely understandable if one overlooked essential announcements in the tech space. One of these announcements occurred in late April, when Plume, one of the industry’s rising stars in the intelligent WiFi space, announced a partnership with ADTRAN to improve and secure the smart home experience. The announcement is crucial and strategic on numerous levels, and it merits some drill down to appreciate its potential impact.
From an industry partnership standpoint, it’s not an exaggeration to compare Plume’s ongoing run over the past two years to the “Murderer’s Row” New York Yankees teams that dominated baseball in the late 1920s and 1930s. Since the initial launch of its original “Pods” in 2014, which provide comprehensive WiFi coverage throughout the home via Plume’s smart, adaptive and Cloud-based technology, the company has focused an enormous amount of its energy and resources on the partnership component of its business strategy. The results have been impressive, with Plume inking critical partnerships with the likes of Comcast, Bell Canada, Samsung, Armstrong and others.
In the company’s negotiations with ISPs, Plume’s chief value proposition is likely centered around its ability to significantly relieve customer frustration and support costs by deploying reliable WiFi coverage throughout the home. Lengthy support calls related to wireless connectivity problems routinely rank at the top of the list of ISP pain points, and the operating expense to their bottoms line can be devastating. “Truck roll” visits to resolve these customer issues can often exceed $200 a pop. To top it off, many of these customer incidents were not related to equipment failure and could have been resolved with the appropriate remote diagnostic tools.
Plume’s adaptive hardware is AI-optimized for better in-home connectivity, based on a customer’s unique wireless usage. Between that, its ecosystem of ISP tools and its cloud-based dashboards, Plume seems to have a winning formula to woo global ISPs. Comcast invested in Plume in 2015 and has been deploying Plume-developed solutions to its customer base ever since. Plume’s technology, no doubt, helped enable the ISP to provide virtually uninterrupted service during the current pandemic, despite an unprecedented surge. In the pre-Plume era, WiFi-related customer satisfaction issues could have been devastating, but Comcast has so far been able to navigate these challenging waters without significant incident. Considering Comcast’s impressive size and reach, Plume should be proud of the partnership.
ADTRAN embraces the potential of Smart Home 2.0 usage models
ADTRAN, one of the leading global providers of next-generation open networking and subscriber experience solutions, announced a partnership with Plume in late April. I believe this collaboration could potentially ratchet up the smart home experience several notches for a number of reasons.
First, the partnership has a global characteristic—ADTRAN committed to deploying Plume’s full suite of smart home services and enterprise applications to over 700 service providers across more than 60 countries. This alone is intriguing, as it stands to inject more international substance into Plume’s vast cloud usage model database—customers will benefit as the “adaptive” element of Plume’s technology becomes more personalized and customized.
Secondly, ADTRAN committed to integrating Plume’s OpenSync architecture into its most widely deployed gateways and extender platforms, both legacy and new. OpenSync already enjoys an enviable reputation as the fastest-growing open-source initiative in the smart home space. Its membership lists vital industry organizations and ISPs such as the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), RDK, Comcast, Charter Communications, Liberty Global and Armstrong, among others. Adding ADTRAN to this roster adds a significant notch to Plume’s business development belt and should boost its global credibility. It should also be noted that the integration of OpenSync into existing gateway hardware not only expands Plume’s reach, but also stands to attract new ADTRAN customers.
This partnership comes at an advantageous time for customers as well. Even before COVID-19 ushered in the current work-from-home phenomenon, mesh networking technology was on the upswing with Plume at the forefront (Plume’s in-house data dashboard nicely illustrates this trend). Now, more than ever, customers need robust, reliable Internet throughout their domiciles to support working remotely. Furthermore, Plume offers “contactless” self-install and support via the cloud. This allows ISPs like ADTRAN to safely deploy and troubleshoot Plume solutions in consumers’ homes without the need for face-to-face technician visits. In the age of COVID-19, this is powerful stuff.
Finally, the announced Plume/ADTRAN partnership is, in my view, a necessary development in the push to deliver innovative Smart Home 2.0 usage models. These type of partnerships (of which Plume has accomplished several in the past two years), demonstrate how two companies can expand their respective footprints and bring world-class hardware, consumer services, and enterprise applications to ISPs, large and small, across the world. This isn’t minor league baseball.
Smart Home 2.0 poised to change everything
It’s important to recall that the original concept of the “smart home” was little more than a disparate, disjointed set of hardware and services, most of which were deliberately not designed for longevity. IoT devices, routers, gateways and WiFi extenders, not to mention apps and security tools, came to market in a piecemeal fashion that was fundamentally “experimental” by nature.
Flash forward to today, companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google are not delivering smart home services to the market as a fundamental platform (e.g. a specialized operating system). Plume’s goal is to decouple the hardware and software, so it doesn’t matter which solutions the consumer uses in the home. Plume is betting that its cloud-based approach, facilitating a more personalized customer experience, will ultimately win. The company expects consumers to stay and grow with the platform over many years and countless hardware cycles.
The challenge with deploying advanced Smart Home 2.0 usage models tends to be the distribution of software. Historically, the more advanced usage models for voice assistants, routers, etc. (just to name a few examples) required some piece of local software and local computation at the device level. It is not an inexpensive proposition.
Plume solved this problem by scaling with ISPs, enabling it to distribute hardware and software into homes via gateways, WiFi extenders, set-top boxes and even physical security solutions. In Plume’s vision, OpenSync is the key strategic ingredient that ISPs find compelling. Its open-source design encourages trust and enables scale.
As I discussed in a blog last month, Cognitive Systems’ motion-sensing technology is one of the early examples of a Smart Home 2.0 usage model. It maps perfectly to Plume’s vision, and for that I wasn’t surprised when Plume announced the two companies’ partnership. Plume’s ISP partners are now beginning to deliver Cognitive Systems’ motion sensing technology, which leverages the wide assortment of WiFi devices available in the average home. It’s exciting to envision what future innovations this new capability will enable. George Jetson and his iconic family of the future would undoubtedly be proud.
A few closing thoughts
COVID-19 has accelerated the work-from-home movement, and it’s become increasingly clear this trend is likely to continue even as many workers are permitted to return to their physical offices. Video conferencing is on its way towards being viewed as indispensable as email, word processing, spreadsheet modeling and presentation development. As we spend more and more time in our homes, the smart home will take on even further importance
As such, companies like Plume, ADTRAN and Cognitive Systems have a great opportunity to execute new Smart Home 2.0 usage models. Simultaneously, ISPs have an opportunity to create sustainable revenue opportunities that were previously too complex to deliver, not scalable and too expensive to support. At the risk of hyperbole, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assert that we are on the verge of entering a smart home “golden age.” When we look back a few years from now, today’s smart home capabilities will likely seem primitive and provincial in comparison.