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20 March 2019

Orange taps DSP Group to add ULE support in smart home platform

Orange has become one of Europe’s most promising champions of the smart home, with innovations ranging from its AI assistant Djingo (designed in partnership with Deutsche Telekom) to interactive mirrors, right down to the nittier and grittier world of sensors and networks. The French incumbent recently made a move in the latter field, rolling in Californian vendor DSP Group to enable future smart home applications via the ultra-low energy (ULE) protocol.

Orange plans to roll out products and services based on DSP’s ULE chips this spring, including a motion sensor, smart plug, smart light bulb and door/window-opening sensor. The initial wave will reach some 3m homes installed with the latest Livebox router, allowing customers to enable the new services free of charge, without the need for additional or new equipment.

The Orange Livebox is a universal home gateway powered by a modest Broadcom BCM63138 chip with just 5000 DMIPS of processing power, running the SoftAtHome platform with dual mode WiFi, but with components bundled onto it for connection to and VDSL lines. The use of the ULE protocol provides several additional benefits including low power consumption, extended indoor coverage and a simple installation procedure.

“Over 5m customers of Orange and Deutsche Telekom are already equipped with ULE-compatible routers and will be able to connect to a wider range of connected objects specially designed for use in the home,” said Sylvaine Aublanc, smart home marketing director at Orange.

DSP Group notes that Orange has switched its wireless communications protocol to the DECT-based ULE on the basis of additional support for QoS, security and reliability, replacing an unspecified previous choice, which may have been Z-Wave or a proprietary option.

The benefits of ULE to operators include interference-free spectrum, one of the longest ranges among the short range wireless technologies (50 meters indoors, 300 meters outdoors), as well as natural and reliable voice and audio support.

Of course, ULE wouldn’t have 2019 appeal without a high relevance to 5G applications, particularly for industrial, healthcare and other markets where there will be large amounts of IoT traffic indoors. Orange joined Deutsche Telekom as a member of the ULE Alliance last month, and the DECT Forum is working on an interworking protocol, called DECT-5G, that would allow DECT and ULE to interface seamlessly with the 3GPP’s 5G New Radio, and in turn allow DECT-based applications to emerge wherever there was a 5G connection. The full DECT argument can be read here.

Tapping DSP was perhaps a long time coming from Orange, given how subsidiary SoftAtHome, the wireless and video gateway specialist, integrated the smaller firm’s ULE chipset back in late 2016, into the SOP8 platform for CPE devices.

DSP has also been active in the voice arena, partnering with STMicro and Sensory on an ultra-low-power MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) microphone package, targeted at IoT apps requiring voice interfaces. Interestingly, neither one of Orange or Deutsche Telekom have ever publicized the chip powering the Djingo smart speaker, which is supposed to belatedly launch this Spring, over a year late on the connected TV agenda. We see the connected home as the media hub and everything connected to it, while the smart home is a much wider ecosystem consisting of sensors and other devices which expand beyond the home, for example remote surveillance.

Almost exactly a year, Orange laid out its smart home strategy during an intriguing interview, explaining how the Anticipation in Smart Access unit – part of the Orange Labs arm – was in the data-harvesting stage at the time on a scale not only to rival European operators in smart homes but the US technology heavyweights too.