Deploying connected home video solutions for pay-TV service providers has now reached mass adoption in several markets.  The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) is adding a new business opportunity to make the home even more connected and smarter for consumers.   It also presents pay-TV service providers with some new challenges. They face competition from big consumer-electronics players and need to find the best way to leverage consumer premise equipment (CPE) to connect different devices, and thereby “own” this new smart home. To help its customers address these challenges, NAGRA launched JoinIn in 2013, its reference architecture for the connected home, which provides a blueprint to ensure all the different elements work together, seamlessly and effortlessly. NAGRA is now extending the use cases that JoinIn addresses to tackle the smart lifestyle opportunities.

What is JoinIn?

JoinIn is a reference – or "blueprint" – architecture for the connected home which helps service providers to deliver an innovative and seamless user experience to their subscribers across different devices.

What JoinIn does is define a homogenous set of innovative technologies, protocols, industry standards and best practices. This allows pay-TV service providers to integrate different technology components to ensure that their premium content can be viewed and shared conveniently on a variety of devices.

JoinIn also now addresses new smart home opportunities by enabling service providers to securely connect lifestyle devices to deliver a rich user experience on various screens, including the main TV set.

What kind of features can JoinIn enable?

A lot of exciting TV-viewing scenarios can be enabled by the JoinIn architecture: the whole-home PVR where recorded content is shared and streamed to TV sets around the home,  live TV streaming from a multimedia home gateway to WiFi-enabled devices, the “side-loading” of content from PVRs to tablets… these are just a few examples.

For smart home scenarios, securely connecting home monitoring cameras, controlling the home energy system or tracking health information are just opportunities that can be enabled to increase operator revenues.

How does it work?

By offering a "blueprint" (the reference architecture) and an "integration cook book" (a set of best practices), JoinIn guides service providers and their digital TV partners in creating the most efficient smart-home solutions. It can be used both for completely new deployments and for bringing together already deployed elements in the best way.

To make an analogy with the construction industry, JoinIn can be a guide to building a house from the ground up or a guide to extending and upgrading an existing home.  The blueprint gives you the building’s detailed architecture documentation, allowing you to stay in control and efficiently commission additional work in the future.

NAGRA has its own end-to-end pre-integrated solution for the smart home based on the JoinIn architecture. It implements the OpenTV 5 connectware technology for powering the smart home gateway and media devices, NAGRA anyCAST security services components as well as NAGRA MediaLive Multiscreen products.

Which industry standards and protocols are involved?

JoinIn defines the integration of a multimedia home gateway with companion devices and other TV screens, so that both broadcast and cloud content can be delivered around the home.  The standards and protocols used by JoinIn address content streaming and protection, user interfaces, cloud-based OTT delivery and service management.

The JoinIn architecture is based mainly on open industry standards such DLNA, uPnP as well as CAS/DRM technology along with HTML5 in client devices. For delivering video between devices, it relies on either native IP or adaptive bit-rate streaming, all secured with NAGRA anyCAST PRM link protection technology.

The same advanced link protection technology can be used for securing communications with smart home devices, ensuring these devices are controlled and guarded against external intrusion into the home domain to avoid sensitive data leaks or hacking of home systems. 

What does JoinIn offer to pay-TV service providers?

The most important thing that JoinIn does is to help pay-TV service providers get the most out of the connected home. It does this by offering them a blueprint reference architecture that is optimized, flexible and innovative so that they can deploy scalable solutions.

So JoinIn helps them to deliver their most important premium video content securely to all devices within the home and also secure the interaction with other lifestyle devices.  JoinIn helps service providers offer a seamless user experience that is consistent across all devices and use cases. With video and connected devices becoming ubiquitous and central to the life of consumers, service providers can market and brand this extended user experience to reinforce their relevance and presence in the digital lives of their customers. 

What’s more, JoinIn is future-proof, because it offers a flexible and modular architecture that is based on best-of-breed technologies and standards. It also offers reduced time-to-market and integration costs because it is designed to stimulate an open-vendor ecosystem without any lock-in.

For vendors, JoinIn offers a stronger partnership relationship with NAGRA and more efficient integration with NAGRA products while defining clear integration points with other components.

Why is JoinIn needed?

Leaving content sharing and new smart life opportunities to vertical CE players like Apple, Google, Amazon or Microsoft brings important risks.  Pay-TV service providers clearly need to make the connected home a reality and a business success, and they need to keep control of the home and maximize reach. JoinIn addresses these needs and helps service providers  ensure that their premium content can be viewed conveniently by their customers on all relevant devices – tablets, smartphones, personal computers and TV sets. It also brings the foundations for deploying advanced smart home services that will be at the hearth of the subscription battle for integrated lifestyle services in the years to come.

Several NAGRA customers have been working with us, asking about how best to provide operator-controlled security to the whole-home PVR and companion devices to address the requirements of content providers or how to ensure that smart home applications stay secure.  JoinIn is the result of these efforts and is a proven reference architecture for integrating the service provider’s in-home equipment with that of third-party CE vendors.

What is the competition and how does JoinIn compare?

There are various products in the market from consumer-electronics manufacturers which allow users to stream OTT video to tablets, smartphones and PCs and also to send it to big-screen TV displays. Some products allow content stored in the home to be sent to tablets or smartphones, but only via vertically integrated apps.   Similar solutions have started to appear to control smart home applications from a smartphone, with users becoming dependent on unknown third-parties for controlling access to their homes or health devices.

By leveraging industry standards, JoinIn enables service providers to do all this and more – providing better integration between broadcast and OTT-delivered content to ensure that live and on-demand TV can be streamed, recorded, shared, sent to and retrieved from all devices in the home, both those of the service provider as well as third-party consumer devices.  Then enabling, for instance, home monitoring systems to securely send video to STBs and other devices, allowing smart life services to blend into the overall core video experience through a seamless operator-branded user experience across multiple screens.

As a result, a subscriber can enjoy a fully integrated experience – enabled by his service provider’s implementation of JoinIn – while using different consumer-electronics brands for smartphones, tablets or TV sets.

Why is the connected smart home so important?

It's important because the TV, cable and telco businesses are changing rapidly. Over the last few years, the connected home has become a key competitive battleground between established pay-TV service providers and vertically integrated technology competitors such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft that provide access to OTT content. Three factors lie behind this:

- First, faster broadband speeds and technologies such as content delivery networks and adaptive bit-rate streaming mean that OTT-delivered video can be viewed on connected devices at sufficient quality, challenging the role of broadcast television.  In parallel, massive deployment of in-home wireless technology such as Wifi and other protocols are enabling new service opportunities.

- Second, the rapid take-up of smartphones and tablets connected to the cloud is encouraging consumers to move easily access video content and various connected services in the palm of their hands.

- Third, the number of connected devices that can control home systems, secure physical access or share sensitive personal data in the home is rising exponentially, all adding convenience and value to the connected lifestyle.

As a result, video consumption remains pivotal to the digital lifestyle of consumers while the appetite for new smart living services increases fast.  Securely accessing content and services on the largest or most convenient screen with the best user experience, be it a 4K TV set in the living room or a smartphone in the kitchen, will make the difference between competing offerings.

Pay-TV service providers are in a potentially strong position in this new environment because they can exploit their existing infrastructure and CPE presence to ensure that they control the delivery of video content and new services in a seamless way to IP-enabled devices around the home. They also own a strong subscription-based relationship with consumers, allowing them to get paid on a monthly basis for delivering innovative CPE that enables new services.

In the coming years, “owning” the home is likely to be one of the most important challenges for pay-TV service providers to master.  Video will remain a powerful card, supported by other services that require trust, proximity and reliability from the service provider to win the confidence and wallet of the consumer quarter after quarter.