Telstra and Ericsson are looking to connect all home devices via a virtual gateway rather than multiple set-top boxes and modems.
Trials of new technology being undertaken by Telstra and Ericsson could enable pay TV, broadband internet and other services to be delivered without customers needing a set-top box at home.
It could also allow them to access their pay TV channels, broadband service and other online services from any location on the Telstra network, potentially making it possible for people to have one subscription for multiple locations and services.
Telstra and Ericsson are trialling the application of so-called network functions virtualisation (NFV) to customer premises equipment (CPE). It is a concept that is rapidly gaining momentum, having been first proposed by a group of telcos, including Telstra, in a white paper in October 2012.
According to a video of the trial, posted by Ericsson on YouTube, Ericsson and Telstra are partnering on the "virtual home gateway" service, known as Virtual CPE for now and using Telstra’s home integration lab to show visitors how it works.
"Customers are acquiring an ever larger number of complex devices. The concept behind Virtual CPE is therefore to simplify that complexity by moving the control back into the network," the video said.
A Telstra spokesman told IT Pro that, Telstra was restricted on what it could say because it was still in testing.
“Early results show the gateway could provide customers with greater control over their services, per user and per device,” he said. Ericsson declined to comment.
In the video, Andrew Long, general manager transport engineering at Telstra, said that, as the number of networked devices with different features increased so did complexity, but users expected the same features wherever they were with whatever device they were using.
David Robertson, Telstra's director of transport and router engineering, said the technology had the potential to enable Telstra to exploit its core network to bring out new products and services faster.
Telco services today are provided by dedicated hardware and software in the telco’s networks and, in cases like pay TV and internet, delivered to the customer over dedicated set-top boxes and modems on the customer premises.
NFV applies the well-established concept of server virtualisation to telco networks. It aims to enable all telco services to be delivered from the core of the network as software running on standard hardware and for the functions normally performed by hardware and software at premises to be performed within the network. The services would then be delivered to a simple modem into the customers' home, or direct to mobile devices.
According to Dr Frank Ruhl, director of Blue Ocean Networks, a consultancy specialising in NFV, telcos around the world are eager to implement the technology because it brings considerable efficiency gains.
"The boxes [on the customer's premises] become very simple and the intelligence is moved back into the network," Ruhl said. "This means that services can be configured by software from the network side and you can innovate much faster and you can bring cloud technology to the table."
Processing would be done in a virtual machine in a data centre, enabling telcos to reallocate software and hardware resources to a second customer when they were not being used by the first.
While Telstra is still at the in-house trial and demonstration stage, other telcos are more advanced. Last October Telefonica announced a customer trial of virtualised CPE in Brazil in conjunction with NEC.
However Ruhl estimates that commercial deployments of virtualised CPE anywhere in the world are at least two years away.
"This is one of the early targets of NFV, together with the virtualisation of mobile networks because of their rapid growth," he said. But integrating the new technology with telcos' backend systems would "slow things down".