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24 May 2022

Nokia targets SaaS offerings at energy efficiency in smart home

Nokia has launched two new software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings targeted at improving energy efficiency in the network and in the home.

The latter could pave the way for operators to start offering smart home-as-a-service (SHaaS) features focused on cutting energy bills – a rather timely venture, given soaring fuel costs.

The more straightforward of the two new offerings is Nokia Analytics Virtualization and Automation (AVA) for Energy. The system monitors a multivendor network environment, and then makes load balancing adjustments when traffic levels are low, turning base stations off or down, and waking them up again in the optimal fashion.

Nokia claims this can provide two to five times improvement in energy efficiency, thanks to its AI-based system, compared to a system that operates on a fixed sleep-wake cycle. The anomaly detection feature will also hunt for devices that are operating outside expected parameters, to help spot small problems before they become very big ones.

The classic example of this is identifying that an air conditioner at a base station has failed based on server temperature readings, and being able to fix that before a hot day sends the server into meltdown.

The more innovative offering is Home Device Management SaaS, which claims to be a vendor-agnostic, automated, secure and scalable device management platform, capable of managing millions of home devices – including smart thermostats, CPEs and connected refrigerators.

Nokia has some 150m home devices under control, it claims, and this could potentially be the sort of scale needed to shift the needle in the smart home and energy realm – bringing the current duopoly of Amazon and Google to the table, and enshrining operators and vendors like Nokia as key parts of this utility relationship.

Operators would logically have a role in orchestrating all the smart home devices and as the importance of pay-TV and telephony declines, this could counteract the consumer view that operators are just utilities, providing the broadband connectivity that is inextricable from modern life. Much like electricity, water, and perhaps gas, broadband must be delivered in an uninterruptible supply.

Many electricity utilities have experimented with expansions into providing broadband, on the back of the fiber networks needed to control and monitor their distributed energy resources (DERs). Increasingly, this includes rooftop solar, community solar, and battery storage distributed throughout neighborhoods and cities. Keeping tabs on those necessitates a network, and utilities are fairly averse to public wireless networks – hence the fiber.

Smart grids need lightning-fast data connections, in order to properly balance the grid load and fire up generation assets when needed, and so are easily comparable to communications networks. If the solar or wind electricity supply drops, the grid needs to be able to fire up gas peaker plants or massive battery storage immediately, to avoid a blackout.

While those approaches are focused on the energy supply, there are all manner of demand-side approaches to take, when it comes to balancing the grid. This is where SHaaS comes in, as an enabling technology for the umbrella that is demand response (DR). Put simply, DR allows a utility to reduce the current electricity demand of its customers, to avoid firing up fossil fuel reserves, and in so doing, improve its emissions record. Usually, customers are provided with rebates in a DR scenario.

The most common example is control over a home’s heating and cooling, where an empty home would see its smart thermostat react to a DR request by reducing its current electricity draw.

The ‘smart’ functions center around scheduling these events according to the home’s current situation, and knowing whether the DR event’s impact (the house getting warmer or colder) is going to negatively impact the occupants.

DR is getting increasingly common in the USA, where the climate is variable and the grid conditions challenging. What Nokia is offering to operators here is a chance to become major players in DR, should they partner with utilities and the likes of Google and Amazon to ensure that the operator system is interoperable with most smart home platforms and devices.

A more direct benefit for the operators will be reducing the energy usage of their CPE. Being able to spot that there is no WiFi activity in the home currently, and that historic data indicates that the occupants are not going to be back for the next eight hours, means that the CPE could be put into a deep sleep. Building on this, being able to put auxiliary devices into such states would help further, such as TVs and sound systems.

Of course, smart home standardization has been an eternal pain. However, the Matter initiative does seem to have united the industry. With Amazon, Apple, Google, and even Ikea under the same banner, Matter should have the power to ensure that these devices can speak to each other, and create a home environment that allows for cross-vendor orchestration – much like Nokia’s network-focused offering.

Matter was not the first standard to attempt this. It is often forgotten that the Qualcomm offshoot AllJoyn, and its AllSeen Alliance, have been working on this concept since 2013.

In 2014, a rival effort from the Open Interconnect Consortium was launched, but the two merged in 2016. A rebrand created the Open Connectivity Foundation, but the membership never managed to snare the big boys of Matter.

Matter itself started out inside the Zigbee Alliance, and the awkward organizational hierarchy was rectified by creating the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA).

The CSA now houses both Matter and Zigbee, in the hopes of fending off any claims of favoritism at the radio level. Thread awkwardly joined Matter too, when it was under the Zigbee wing, which was rather amusing for jaded veterans of the smart home sector.

Other Matter and CSA members include Amazon, Apple, Arris, BT, CableLabs, Charter, Comcast, Deutsche Telekom, Google, Hisense, Korea Telecom, LG, Orange, Sagemcom, Samsung, TCL, Technicolor, Universal Electronics and Verizon.