Don’t listen to the naysayers, says Ruth Wilson, Deputy Chair of the Board, DECT Forum
How many times have we heard the phrase ‘DECT is dead’? Whilst it’s well recognized that the PSTN market for traditional cordless phones is shrinking, what is less well understood is that in a world which is transitioning from PSTN to IP, that doesn’t mean the demise of cordless technology, nor does it take into account the growing opportunities for ULE applications in a fast growing, smart home market.
Before we jump to that, let us first take a bit of a history lesson so that we can fully appreciate the technology potential. Way back in 2004, the DECT Forum formed an idea for the next generation of DECT technology, in particular, how the audio could take advantage of the wider bandwidth available within an IP network, and started looking at a wideband audio proposition as an alternative to narrowband, which was in use within the boundaries of a PSTN network. This idea took legs and ran as they say, and provided the opportunity to overhaul the DECT specification, not only for an enhanced audio experience, but also to standardize other features that were being used alongside DECT, such as caller list and phonebooks. In an era where technology hype sometimes seemed more important than actually working to a specification with a real end-application, the need to create a new brand and to generate market awareness was clear, so CAT-iq was born. So, a bit of a quirky name, perhaps, but CAT-iq had a purpose.
Hooking ISP interest
The DECT Forum was insightful enough to consider why an ISP would want to integrate DECT into its router and how they it could be encouraged to engage in order to see real market adoption of the technology?
Well, who better to ask than the ISP providers themselves and hence the question posed by the DECT Forum to the Home Gateway Initiative (HGI). In case you are now wondering who the HGI was, this was a telecom service provider-focused organization that looked at common requirements for home gateway solutions and brought together the benefits of open discussion around customer challenges, service roll-outs and the needs of the operator, etc. Leading HGI players were service providers such as BT, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Teliasonera. This was the perfect place, then, for the DECT Forum to understand how voice services would run in an all IP world, and what the technology was that was needed to satisfy real world applications.
After many interesting workshops, and some challenging discussions between manufacturers and service providers, one of the key answers was interoperability – covering the many potential features – and the ability to create a consumer handset market where the suppliers of the devices were potentially independent from the gateway manufacturer. This was a concept that was significantly different from the legacy PSTN cordless market and required a definition. The specification definition was subsequently created by the DECT Forum. It incorporated the insight from the operator community and provided an ideal focus for the specification writers. The technology specifications themselves were written within ETSI. At this point, CAT-iq 2.0 was born.
Interestingly, the partnership between the DECT Forum and HGI continued, not only looking at subsequent iterations of the CAT-iq specification, but also in the branding and a joint agreement with the GSMA to come under the HDVoice umbrella. For ISPs with both fixed and mobile service propositions, this was driven by the value of having a common branding, but that’s a story for another day. However, one of the benefits of this cooperation was the engagement with the cable operators, and the subsequent adoption of the CAT-iq specification into the Cablelabs PacketCable HDVoice specifications, which defines DECT / CAT-iq integration into cable modems.
So, bit of a long history lesson, but I believe it is important to understand that the specification has roots in the true requirements for gateways and routers.
CAT-iq – not just a pretty face
With a simple registration, the great inherited home coverage of DECT, building on DECT’s reliability and security and now with enhanced audio and interoperability of key feature sets, that would seem sufficient, but CAT-iq also has some other hidden benefits.
For a service provider, the handsets can be located anywhere in the home and the charging cradles can be connected to any power socket, giving freedom of location away from the home router. This – the router – is traditionally located by the broadband connection and not necessarily in the most convenient place. This new solution also removes the need for an FXS port in the router, providing a cost reduction option.
If there is a need to maintain the functionality of traditional PSTN handsets, CAT-iq has been designed to be backwards compatible, and, by utilizing the DECT path in the router, also allows for a simple extender to be created with an FXS port. This simple box can be plugged into any power socket, located anywhere in the home, and again removes any dependency on an FXS port in the router.
Interestingly, this same capability also opens up new potential markets. In a PSTN world, many different vertical markets such as security, payment terminals, independent living and healthcare are currently reliant on their connection to the PSTN line, sometime using only simple interactions with alarm notifications using DTMF tones. The underlying data channels provided by DECT and supported in the CAT-iq specifications allow for the possibility to transition into the IP network, even without any required changes to existing devices, using the PSTN plug in extender.
Transitioning to IoT
Talking about the data channels then leads to the new potential applications that can be utilized through the deployment of ULE, otherwise known as DECT Ultra Low Energy. Developed by the ULE Alliance, a sister organization of the DECT Forum, ULE is a variant of the DECT specification and allows battery powered sensors to utilize the data channels of DECT. The great news for routers that have been deployed with DECT is that no additional hardware components are required for the router, and ULE activation is possible by an in-life software upgrade. This again opens up a whole new possibility of services around smart home applications, and also – thanks to the certification and interoperability programs – the ability to source devices from many vendors.
With market adoption from multiple major telecom operators utilizing both CAT-iq and ULE, the underlying DECT technology has adapted and realigned for an IP world, servicing both voice and data requirements.
So what’s next? Well DECT technology is still evolving, and in particular on the audio side. The DECT Forum is looking at the next advances in codecs, working towards the ideal scenario of a full audio path from mobile networks to fixed line IP. This would be perfect for the ISP who services both markets and would be a valuable addition to all its other capabilities.
‘Seems, then, that DECT is not only very much alive, but pretty healthy, and looking forward to a long life!
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