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4 February 2021

Plume taps big boy Akamai for operator-focused security clout

Plume has made another move to boost its security credentials in the home, this week announcing a deal with Akamai to provide a joint offering to operators looking to launch smart home and smart business services – sharing customers and both sales and marketing teams.

This is an expansion of sorts for Plume, which has been mostly focused on the home. Moving into the business realm should be a decent opportunity, although it is going to run into the likes of Cisco and Ubiquiti pretty quickly.

Those rivals prefer selling enterprise networking equipment, usually to specialist integrators that will rig up the building with heaps of ethernet cabling, ducts, and uninterruptible power supplies. In direct comparison, Plume’s weeny mesh WiFi pucks are a bit underwhelming, but are likely well suited to the Small and Medium Business (SMB) segment.

However, the main thrust of the Akamai-Plume partnership is on the software and services side of the equation. Akamai’s CDN and attack mitigation services, which prevent websites being taken offline by immense DDoS and traffic routing abuses, have a pretty stellar reputation, but they aren’t as well known in the more conventional cybersecurity realm.

By this, we mean the sorts of security services offered to SMBs, which monitor network traffic, scan for installed malware, issue security updates and patches, and generally act as an overseer for your business software environment. To many SMBs, ‘security’ means more physical security, such as cameras and alarm systems, but as more of their business operations are moved wholly online, their risk footprint increases dramatically.

This is a growing market, and Akamai and Plume are hoping that their combined capabilities prove alluring. The dynamic for the smart home is rather different, however. The operators targeted by this partnership are looking to provide value-add services to existing customers, rather than use security as a way to generate new leads.

There are parallels to be made between the SMB sector’s growing connectivity footprint and the home. As more connected devices are brought into the home, the risk that a rogue actor can manipulate sub-par security standards to gain a foothold in the home increases. For both consumers and businesses, network outages are painful, but while a business might have processes or insurance, if a consumer’s data is stolen, or their smart home devices taken for a ride, that’s an incredibly personal affront.

Currently, the consumer anger is going to be directed at the device maker, but the operators have a significant risk exposure here, the minute they start pitching security as a USP. After all, if you start selling your triple-play bundle on the basis of a security service that promises to keep a home safe, and it turns out that the service didn’t catch this incident, you will have a fairly irate customer on your hands.

While not as invasive as a burglary, having your home security camera feed leaked online, having an ADT technician watch you intimately unknown for five years, or hearing an Amazon Ring camera start blaring out racial slurs, is still deeply unsettling and upsetting.

Worryingly, the operators are essentially the lowest common denominator here. They, after all, are providing the equipment that connects these devices to the internet, so should they have a duty of care, to ensure that they are not an accessory to a crime?

There have been murmurs along those lines, with regard to create laws that would hold both device makers and ISPs accountable. Fortunately, for the operators, there has been little movement here, but it is a risk that they should be aware of. Being preemptive here would be beneficial, as we have already seen examples of operator CPE being targeted by cybercriminals. Deutsche Telekom was a notable early victim of Mirai.

The scale of that attack, some 900,000 routers according to Germany’s BSI, should worry every operator that has ever placed a connected device inside a consumer home. Lawsuits are almost certainly going to begin cropping up if businesses think they can prove damages caused by insecure field equipment, but a more pressing concern might be that of tarnished reputation.

But of course, this is an opportunity for Plume and Akamai. They can point to examples like this and position themselves as the ideal solution to that looming problem – nipping things in the bud, before they flare up. Akamai’s State of the Internet series of reports is excellent fodder for such marketing initiatives.

Akamai already provides Vodafone and Telstra with its Security and Personalization Services (SPS) offering, which these operators then resell to their own customers. Given Plume’s position with Comcast’s CPE, and Comcast Business already using those Akamai SPS services, we would be very surprised if Comcast’s residential division doesn’t adopt the new joint offering.

Parental controls are another element at play, which promise to allow parents to choose what content should be filtered at the router level. In theory, this should ensure that kids are not exposed to things their parents want kept from them, but sufficiently motivated teenagers are rather adept at bypassing such filters.

Integrating Plume’s Consumer Experience Management (CEM) platform with Akamai’s SPS portfolio should “offer a unified subscriber experience for digital services management for home and business. The combined global reach of the sales teams mean they are able to offer solutions designed to help increase ARPU, improve NPS and reduce operational costs through fewer support calls and truck rolls while also reducing subscriber churn,” claims the announcement.

“Plume’s industry-leading technology has been shown to cut service delivery intervals and operational costs, powering CSP digital service offerings that reduce churn,” said Dane Walther, SVP & GM, Media and Carrier Business Units, at Akamai Technologies. “We’re coupling Akamai’s threat intelligence, which is powered by the Akamai Intelligent Edge Platform, mobile expertise and scale with Plume’s technology that is already deployed by more than 150 ISPs in over 21 million homes and businesses to help fuel even greater adoption.”