How to effectively manage different chipsets for your connected homes portfolio
by Kajsa Arvidsson
Who hasn’t heard about the global shortage of components and chipsets? This was one of many examples of how the pandemic disrupted businesses, ranging from the automotive industry and smartphones to connected homes. So, what does this mean for customer premise equipment (CPE) companies who rely on multiple chipset suppliers for their connected home products?
I have interviewed the COO of one of our key customers;
Dealing with chipset scarcity
The low supply of chipsets (also known as system on a chip (SoC)) has been challenging for the whole ecosystem. If there is a problem in one part of the system, it has a ripple effect on the rest. As a result, we have become acutely aware of our dependence on every aspect of chain delivery. Here are some of the main challenges around the chipset supply chain:
- Manufacturing: during the pandemic, many chipset manufacturers temporarily closed facilities to protect their workers. Naturally, this impacted production. Even during the post-pandemic, manufacturers struggle to meet the global demand, and it seems it will take some time until they can return to full capacity. Even if chipset manufacturers would increase the number of facilities, this is not an easy undertaking. It takes a long time to have the new facility up and running; production is complicated, and a pristine environment is required.
- Sourcing: for CPE companies looking to develop new products, be prepared for longer lead times, in some cases, up to a year for delivery compared to a couple of months.
- Pricing: because of the high demand and low supply, chipset suppliers have the upper hand in setting prices. What used to be fixed annual prices are now changing monthly.
- Transportation: overall logistics have been impacted. The industry has its own issues ranging from a shortage of truck drivers and a backlog of shipping containers to transportation routes affected by the war in Ukraine.
Developing a resilient approach with a unified software platform
Although these might seem like daunting barriers that are out of your control, there are solutions to help CPE companies manage these challenges more effectively. For example, when developing new platforms, CPE companies ARE in control and can proactively choose their approach.
A good starting point is to decide what will be the platform for your new product and look at what is happening on the technology side. For example, what current technology is available, in the pipeline, and what next-generation platforms are coming up. Traditionally, chipset suppliers have provided most or all of the proprietary software components needed to develop a complete product. This proprietary software is commonly for specific SoCs or platforms. This siloed approach is inflexible resulting in a lot of one-time use of development work where the code base can’t easily move between SOCs or platforms.
From managing many to one
Imagine if you had hardware-independent software that extends across your new products? The first step is to use open-source software such as OpenWrt* – a Linux operating system targeting embedded devices. This is what we have chosen. OpenWrt* includes 3500 optional software packages, which is an extensive and rich breadth of software supported by an open-source community.
The next step is adding a layer on top of the open-source software that unifies the various software. In other words, one independent Software Development Kit (SDK) to manage all the others. Finally, you create a new SDK that supports your new product in combination with key components such as Wi-Fi. For example, you can tailor the SDK to meet operator needs, such as adding management tools to make it easier for your customer operators to provision and use your products.
Why an independent SDK?
As we have witnessed with the chipset shortage, being agile is business-critical. Using an independent SDK offers flexibility and several advantages:
- Software consistency: by using a unified SDK, you are better equipped to validate, certify and ensure consistent software across products regardless of the hardware.
- Better prepared for shorter technology lifecycles: Particularly for Wi-Fi, the lifetime of Wi-Fi components is reduced from 5 years to 3 years. Therefore, you need to translate these technologies into products and sell them quickly. Otherwise, you will never reach a return on investment. A flexible SDK will get your products faster to the market.
- Ensure product availability in an expanding market: Despite the short supply of components, the connected home market is growing at a rapid pace. With an open SDK, you can supply the gateways and extenders needed for high-speed Wi-Fi and support 1 GB to 10 GB products.
*OpenWrt is a trademark owned by software in the Public Interest, Inc.
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