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Home networking – the easy, Israeli way

Posted By Nicky Blackburn On August 13, 2006 @ 8:00 pm In | No Comments

Service Shield automates setting up the home networks and broadband services that the everyday user finds so complicated.Home networks may have grown more complicated in the last few years, but the home user hasn’t grown any more technically competent.

That’s why Israeli company Enure Networks has developed Service Shield, a new software capable of completely automating the setup, configuration, repair and total management of home networks and broadband services (the Internet, Internet TV, and Internet telephony) – essentially, all of the technical mumbo jumbo that everyday user finds so difficult to do.

“In the last few years much has been done to solve the management issues of complex business networks, but the home owner was ignored,” says David Sayag, VP of marketing and founder of the Herzliya-based company. “Home networks have become increasingly complicated, but for the most part the home owner was left to install and troubleshoot these complex new services by themselves. What we see is that consumers don’t want to deal with technicalities, they want simplicity.”

Once installed on each networked PC in the home, Enure’s patent pending solution manages the home network with virtually no need for intervention, shielding the user from behind-the-scenes complexity.

The product, which is now available in the US, maintains the network in an optimal state, automatically fixing network problems when they occur with zero user involvement – even if it’s the user who has messed up the settings.

“Traditional solutions are far too limited in repairing home network problems and typically call on consumers to take some action at some point to repair problems,” Sayag told ISRAEL21c. “This is the barrier that limits the home networking market from reaching its fullest potential.”

According to Sayag, Service Shield is the first product on the market that is capable of managing home networks and is as easy to install and use as it is to plug in a new microwave oven. He predicts that it will have an enormous impact on the way consumers are able to enjoy their home networks, because it will remove any worry about the reliability and availability of broadband access and related services.

Technology in the home has become increasingly complex in the last few years as the telecom market moves towards convergence, and increasing numbers of people introduce DSL (digital subscriber line) and other broadband services to their home.

Initially service providers set up call or support centers to support users when things went wrong. Today every operator offering Internet has a unique dedicated call center that deals with specific areas of business. This was fine at the start, but gradually as subscriber numbers have grown (there are already some 200 million subscribers to DSL worldwide), and services have increased, the call center has become a heavyweight burden on service providers.

“Service providers get tens of thousands of support calls every day,” explains Sayag. “That means a great deal of support. An ISP in Israel with some 200,000 broadband subscribers must employ between 600-800 people in a call center only for DSL. That doesn’t even cover other services.”

For the most part, these call centers only cover basic service – one PC in your home and one DSL modem. If you have two of three PCs in your home, or a WiFi network, things become even more complex.

“With basic DSL service you need one call center representative per every 4,000 customers. If you have WiFi and a home network, the numbers rise to one call center rep for every 500 customers. To achieve that, the size of a call center must be enormous. If a service provider needs thousands of employees to maintain the service, then operational costs will be high, and in the end the service will be expensive for the end user. Instead service providers must reduce their costs, by automating service operations as much as possible,” says Sayag.

As a result service providers try to control support costs by trying to push customers to self support web sites, manuals, chat tools or e-mail support. This is frustrating to customers, and often unhelpful.

Today most service providers simply do not offer support for anyone introducing more complicated Internet services to their home. Instead users buy the technology from Office Depot, and install and troubleshoot them alone, or call their son, or technology-savvy neighbor in to help.

For service providers, Sayag believes that Enure’s technology opens up significant opportunities. By passing the technology on to its customers, providers can dramatically reduce the customer support costs related to fixing broadband access problems.

“You can’t just go ahead and multiply call centers by eight. At a certain point, if you want to go to massive deployment, you get stuck,” says Sayag. “We can eliminate most of the calls, and free up the service provider to create more services.”

The software can be bundled on a CD as part of new service bundles, downloaded to existing customers, or even embedded within a service provider’s own home network software. This makes mass deployment extremely simple.

Initially, Sayag believes the software will be offered for free, but that gradually service providers will introduce a fee.

In addition, Sayag believes that Service Shield can also help build customer loyalty and trust as providers seek to introduce more complex broadband services to the home. One of the largest obstacles service providers face today in the acceptance of next generation services is that consumers do not have confidence that their network services will be as reliable and available as their telephone or TV.

With Enure’s support, this obstacle will be removed, opening the way for a whole new era of home IT. This includes fixed mobile convergence – the ability to combine fixed and mobile networks – and video over IP. While these technologies are not likely to reach the market for another few years, Sayag admits that this goal is a “kind of lighthouse for us”.

Enure was founded by Sayag in 2003. It was a difficult time for fund-raising and Enure could not raise money without a customer. The company started small with just three engineers and very few expenses. For the next two years, the company concentrated on building a prototype and at the same time, Sayag – who previously worked for Sheer Networks – exploited his contacts with Singapore telecom operator SingTel and Bezeq Telecommunications, Israel’s largest telecommunications company, to see how they responded to the software. The response was good.

In September 2005, the company raised its first round of financing – $4 million from Elron Electronic Industries, an Israreli high-technology holding company. This round is shortly to be enlarged with another $3m. from a UK investor that has not yet been named.

In April this year, Enure sold its technology to Bezeq, which has around one million subscribers. The deal with Bezeq involves deployment of Service Shield to the vast majority of its broadband access users. Enure will provide Bezeq with a tailored Service Shield solution to fit Bezeq’s requirements.

Service Shield is being deployed to users, typically via a download, for installation on all home-networked PCs. The deal will be initiated in several phases, with the first phase being valued at around $1 million for Enure.

The company, which today employs 31 people and expects to reach 40 by the end of the year, has now opened its US headquarters in Boston and has begun intensive sales activities in the US.

“We have started negotiations with tier one service providers and ISP’s and have got very good traction,” says Sayag.

Sayag believes that what makes Enure stand out from the competition is its vision and technology. “Our competitors are primarily working with call centers, and are looking to provide them with tools that can reduce the time spent on calls,” he explains. “We look at the service provider and the consumer, and develop solutions that will take the end user out of the equation. We believe the user must not be involved in the process. Our goal is to eliminate most of the calls, not to reduce their duration. The whole strategy is different.

“Enure enables service providers to rebuild the trust of end users. With our technology it’s no longer a case of saying we don’t support this, and we don’t support that. We enable them to support everything.”

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