Remote Device Management Strategy in a High-Growth Residential Market

While DSL and copper remain the predominant access technology for fixed broadband services across the African continent, fiber and fixed wireless access using 4G LTE to homes and small businesses are rapidly picking up steam. As a result, service providers are able to extend their residential broadband footprint and offer new services like gigabit internet over fiber.

Remote device management for residential broadband customers has never been more top of mind for global operators than during these extraordinary times amid a global pandemic when people are practicing social distancing. It’s becoming central to avoiding truck rolls that put employees and customers at risk.

Growing fiber access market

Today, South Africa is the leading country in the sub-Saharan African market for FTTx deployments. By the end of 2020, 898,000 South African households are forecasted to be connected via FTTH, with that number expected to scale to 1.3 million connections by 2023 (FTTX Council 2019). This growth in the number of residential fiber subscribers is driven by the need for high-speed broadband connections to support next-generation IP services such as OTT content and 4K streaming, which require larger bandwidth and capacity to the home. Although a vast majority of sub-Saharan countries have focused on providing businesses with fiber first, the focus in the South African market remains residential FTTH deployments.

What are the challenges service providers face when it comes to fiber?

Given this anticipated fiber growth in South Africa, manual, error-prone processes for tracking ONTs and CPEs via in-house scripts, spreadsheets, and network management tools will no longer suffice if service providers want to scale service uptake. Device plug-and-play, also termed zero-touch provisioning, has been relatively uncommon in emerging markets until now, but in order to achieve service velocity and gain a competitive advantage, automation and remote device management functions will be key.

Compounding this issue is the fact that personnel in smaller organizations often wear multiple hats. It’s not uncommon for the CTO of a small operator to also work on network technical issues. Ultimately, if a service provider has fewer technical resources available in-house for all things IT and support, chances are service quality will be negatively impacted with time-consuming and extensive manual tasks required to pinpoint the root cause of issues and resolve them.

Dealing with costly fiber deployments – now what?

Despite its performance and maintenance benefits, fiber access networks can sometimes make for a difficult business case due to high cost. With South Africa having one of the lowest population densities in the world, it’s not economically viable to provide customers living in remote areas outside of urban centers with fiber connectivity. With decreasing, or even ‘capped’, investments in copper and DSL, incumbents and alternative operators often turn to fixed wireless access solutions over 4G LTE to get the initial land grab of consumers while planning for future technology introductions like fiber and 5G. Meanwhile, there are also operators already offering fiber that are now acquiring wireless ISPs to address the ‘connectivity imbalance’, along with operators, such as Vox, consolidating fiber assets.

Why is remote device management needed?

Access technologies such as FTTH, DSL, and fixed wireless 4G LTE bring to the table diverse and numerous equipment vendors for ONTs, modems, and CPEs, introducing increased complexity to network operational processes. A ‘stovepipe’ approach with network management won’t hold up using manual swivel-chair operations. Process automation and remote visibility of all devices, regardless of the network access and vendor, is the cornerstone of ensuring a seamless ‘always-on’ in-home experience which can prove to be an important market differentiator. Remote device management isn’t just about discovering device status and configuration, but enabling new digital channels for customer care, network operations, and subscribers to manage broadband devices via a single centralized platform, performing functions such as speed tests, firmware upgrades, and Wi-Fi configuration changes. This lessens the operational burden on customer care, reduces the frequency of truck rolls, and empowers customers to manage their own experience.

How quickly can this be deployed?

These questions are the types of questions which are always top of mind for service providers: how much work is required to implement remote device management, what is the burden on my internal teams, how much custom work is needed, and how long will this take?

With Incognito Software Systems Inc’s productized platform approach, we were able to implement and deploy a full ACS solution remotely, which integrated with Nokia and Huawei devices, in seven business days for a customer in South Africa. This particular operator needed to move quickly to put a solution in place to reduce the operational costs of supporting residential customers, and Incognito responded to the challenge.

Parting thoughts

When strategizing your operational approach to managing residential customers, plan for device volumes that scale, multi-access technology support, and automating operational processes. Incognito's remote device management platform enables stellar broadband connectivity and is proven in operator networks around the world. Visit Incognito’s remote device management solution page to learn more and access additional emerging market research findings for fixed broadband services.

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