The Future of the Wi-Fi Connected Home

Today’s internet service providers face serious challenges in supporting their customers’ Wi-Fi networks.

  • Accessing the data in existing hardware and software in a siloed ecosystem
  • Providing whole-home Wi-Fi
  • Delivering fast throughput
  • Enabling self-management

Accessing the Data in Existing Hardware and Software in a Siloed Ecosystem

A lot of service providers and device manufacturers need a way to access the information—the hardware and software resources—in the home and the last mile of the network. However, the technology used in the last mile and the home is 10 to 15 years behind the technology used in today’s data centers. And the industry moves slowly, and hardware evolution is a bit stagnant. The net effect is that it is difficult for the industry to launch new technologies, services, and upgrades; and to reduce costs.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness of the bottlenecks in the ecosystem. One way to break through these bottlenecks is to use standards. Whenever you standardize something, the market explodes, and that’s good for the industry. Another way is to focus on the ecosystem as a whole, rather than on a siloed service-provider-plus-vendor alignment. We need to think about how the different pieces of the ecosystem work together.

This is not just about add-on services; it’s also about the basic service. Bottlenecks reduce speed, reliability, and the ability to offer new services. This problem is on an order of magnitude bigger than launching next-generation Wi-Fi. The ecosystem is locked in, so we have problems of interoperability and competing standards that never get realized.

Providing Whole Home Wi-Fi

A second major challenge is the need for Wi-Fi throughout the entire home. Customers are buying more connected devices, which increases demand for Wi-Fi availability throughout the home. However, about 30 percent of Wi-Fi households have problems with slow speeds, dead spots, and the like. The signal usually fails because of the structure, its walls, and other barriers.

In the past, it was common to have one access point with high-power Wi-Fi. The trend now is for mesh solutions with many nodes that are better placed in the home—big nodes for large spaces and little ones for smaller areas.

Delivering Fast Throughput

Wi-Fi has to be faster, and customers want to be able to measure that speed inside the home. On the average, usable throughputs are only about 20 to 25 Mbps. These are measured figures ASSIA has, and this is a problem that is primarily due to the fact that the ecosystem is siloed.

Enabling Self-management

Consumers want to manage their home Wi-Fi networks themselves. They want a user-friendly system that lets them see how the network is performing and fix it themselves. ASSIA, some operators, and mesh solutions allow customers to troubleshoot their networks on the fly.

The Need for Properly Managed Wi-Fi in the Home

Two major issues for proper management of home Wi-Fi are stability, throughput, and innovation. In response to these issues, we need two things.

A fast, stable connection to the house. We must focus on the last mile of connectivity. The way to address that is to clean up the bottlenecks in the ecosystem, one by one.

Allow providers to innovate. Let’s not add closed layers that create latencies on top of latencies. If the latency is too large, software companies can’t innovate. Instead of opening up the ecosystem, we put up fences, stifle innovation, and shrink the number of vendors. Everyone wants to have the highest performance access to the home. We need standards that help with interoperability and enable innovation in the marketplace.

Supporting High-speed Wi-Fi in MDUs

Providing quality Wi-Fi in MDUs (multiple dwelling units) is a significant challenge, especially when there are multiple providers in the MDU. There would be great advantage in coordinating multiple networks within the same floor and building, both in the front and the back end, and cross-optimizing between the two.

If there is a problem, it is essential to first identify the source or sources of contention—often, there is more than one source. And the environment is dynamic. So, it is important to employ an adaptive solution, which can deliver the right optimization parameters to different kinds of networks in the MDU. This will become even more important in the future. Without coordinating Wi-Fi, it will be hard to solve the capacity problem into the individual home in an MDU.

We Are Meeting These Challenges

ASSIA has two initiatives to meet the challenges of Wi-Fi connected home: Commande and Cloud Management and Diagnostics interface (CMDi).

Commande

This software stack enables data collection and control and provides an interface with a decision-support system and CPEs. Commande is an immediate path to avoid vendor lock-in because once you’re locked in, you’re stuck, and six or seven years out, there is no innovation. For this initiative, ASSIA is working with carriers, and we have a hardware ecosystem partner program with about 15 companies. Learn more about ASSIA Commande.

CMDi

Our second initiative, CDMi, is longer-term. CMDi is an ASSIA proposal for a standard way to define the interfaces for devices and network elements. And we are doing corresponding standards-related work, such as with OpenWrt, RDK, prpl, the Wi-Fi Alliance and Broadband World Forum.

As far as standards go, we don’t play favorites. We support all the open standards platforms and invest significant resources in this support. However, we believe it is essential that we provide the interface level and share our know-how, so the industry has an open ecosystem. Without that, innovation will be much slower.

We built our technology to be vendor-independent. Our goal is to reduce the lead time to enable companies to bring new software and services to market. In that way, we can help make the promise of the Wi-Fi connected home a reality.


Wi-Fi is Mission-Critical Infrastructure for Life

Tuncay Cil, CSO, ASSIA
Ken Kerpez, IEEE Fellow, Head of Standards, ASSIA

Recent chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our work, education, communication, and healthcare infrastructure in many ways. As massive numbers of people have no choice but to continue their lives from home, the home network has become the lifeline of connectivity. Issues related to speed, coverage, security, and reliability of the home network have become visible during video conference calls, online classes, and telemedicine visits. We believe proprietary data control and collection systems cause most of the inefficiencies and lack of coordination between applications and networks. To break the silos of incompatible home networking devices and management systems, a group of companies are now accelerating standardization efforts of open ecosystem friendly reference designs and standards developments.

ASSIA is helping to move Wi-Fi Alliance, BBF, and prpl standards forward and is furthering cloud management of Wi-Fi with the proposal for a Cloud Management and Diagnostics interface (CMDi). This is to fill in the gaps in existing data models, add flexible reporting such as variable data collection frequencies, and provide further glue to existing standards for true cloud management and control. This work aims to fulfill the need for advanced home network management—including real-time diagnostics and optimization—particularly for the critical Wi-Fi link. Wi-Fi Alliance EasyMeshTM provides an open ecosystem for deploying multiple APs to provide whole-home Wi-Fi coverage. Wi-Fi Alliance Data ElementsTM standardizes important, relevant diagnostics data reporting from both multi-AP and single-AP deployments.

The Broadband Forum (BBF) has developed the successor to TR-069, the User Services Platform (USP), which is standardized in TR-369. USP is more agile and flexible than TR-069, providing real-time data and control. USP supports virtualization across the WAN to the cloud, and is being extended to an internal interface to support agents on devices. USP uses the extensive data models already defined by the BBF, including the Wi-Fi data model in TR-181, which was recently extended to include Wi-Fi Data Elements and additional multi-AP objects.

The prpl Foundation is developing an opensource reference platform to advance these standards, including prplMesh and joint work with the BBF. ASSIA is committed to bridge the gap among multiple standards in data collection and control frameworks and help enable a truly open application ecosystem for mission-critical infrastructure for home networking.

Read the Press Release “ASSIA Joins prpl Foundation to Make a Vendor-Neutral Wi-Fi Management Ecosystem a Reality


Future of the Wi-Fi Ecosystem

Today, Wi-Fi is a major bottleneck for high-speed broadband delivery. The statistics are disconcerting, to say the least:

  • About 30 percent of Wi-Fi households have problems with slow speeds, dead spots and the like
  • Half of the homes experience high noise and interference at the 2.4GHz band
  • The actual throughput for 80% of homes with the 5GHz band is under 100Mbps
  • 35% of homes with the 5GHz band have severe coverage issues
  • 10% of them get less than 10Mbps throughput
  • And adding unmanaged access points has little or no effect on the problem

One reason is the nature of Wi-Fi itself. It’s a volatile spectrum, with frequent spikes that affect quality. Another reason for the poor customer experience is the increased demand because of the sheer number of connected devices.

And poor quality results in unhappy customers and higher service costs. Most of the calls to customer service are about low-quality Wi-Fi experience.

Handling those calls is expensive. It costs anywhere between $20 to a few hundred dollars to handle a ticket, depending on the support level needed. That can be a big hit to the bottom line.

The Players in the Wi-Fi Ecosystem

With numbers like that, it’s no wonder that the future of the Wi-Fi ecosystem is changing. To get a perspective, let’s look at three traditional players affected by this evolution: the carriers, system vendors and chipset vendors.

Carriers

For the most part, carriers now accept that Wi-Fi is their responsibility. Increasingly, they also see it as a path for increasing revenues (from offering more services) and for transforming their operations (by improving the quality of experience and reducing expenses). After all, Wi-Fi is the backbone for services like ambient computing, with its promise of a more integrated, intelligent house.

System Vendors

Over the past few years, system vendors have seen their industry become more competitive. The more established vendors, in particular, are challenged to differentiate their products and services, which have been in the market for a long time and have not evolved with the times.

Chipset Vendors

The third major player, the chipset vendors, traditionally called the shots. They determined who worked with which carrier in their ecosystem. Today the industry is more competitive. Several established vendors are trying to protect their ecosystems while newer players, which want to grow their share of the market, are trying to open the industry up. Moving forward, it seems that chipset vendors need to adopt a better data model that embraces standards and interoperability.

All of these players, carriers, system vendors and chipset vendors must evolve to be a part of the future of the Wi-Fi ecosystem.

Critical Factors for the Future of Wi-Fi Ecosystem

So that’s where we are today. Looking forward, we see three major areas that can impact the future of the Wi-Fi ecosystem: standards, network management and Wi-Fi 6.

Standards

With the market in so much flux, players need to view the ecosystem as a whole rather than focus on individual siloes. We need to think about how the different pieces of the ecosystem work together.

Of course, that requires interoperability, which demands a commitment to standards. Such a commitment would also substantially reduce the bottlenecks described above.

ASSIA supports all the open standards platforms and invests significant resources in this support. Proprietary solutions lock companies in, which makes it difficult for carriers to evolve, innovate, and incorporate emerging standards such as Wi-Fi 6 and mesh.

Today, because so few vendors adhere to standards, we have to test every version of the chipset and Wi-Fi driver to find out how they work on the middleware and/or CPE. We spend a good deal of our time solving interoperability problems because of the lack of standardization. The industry would be stronger if all of us were free to work on much more high-value-added services.

We think that carriers should always require the newest and best standards when they buy new CPEs or other devices. That’s how we can make some progress. Otherwise, vendors will take the least-expensive path, which is typically developing their own devices.

Cloud Management

There is a lot of discussion about Wi-Fi management, about the best way to assure the stability and throughput of the bandwidth. We believe that cloud management is the best way to holistically monitor, diagnose and optimize the home-internet and Wi-Fi service.

There are many operational benefits from managing a Wi-Fi network in the cloud. With cloud management, you can collect a huge amount of data, which can be correlated with real-live quality indicators to improve the models and algorithms, whether locally or in the edge. This is the best way to assure that all the systems and devices of the Wi-Fi network can interoperate, scale and evolve with technology and industry standards. Moving Wi-Fi management to the cloud will positively impact the future of the Wi-Fi Ecosystem.

Wi-Fi 6 and Mesh Networks

Finally, we need to discuss Wi-Fi 6 and mesh networks.

Some say Wi-Fi 6 is the most important iteration of wireless technology since Wi-Fi began.

Surely, Wi-Fi 6 will be an improvement and will offer significantly higher maximum data rates. However, the problem with Wi-Fi networks is not the maximum rate. As mentioned earlier, most devices do not transmit data anywhere near that rate. Reducing the network bottleneck is a much bigger issue than launching the next generation of Wi-Fi.

Of course, Wi-Fi 6 will help—probably a lot—but not right away. It won’t be a revolution; it will be an evolution. Face it, we are only now seeing the benefits from Wi-Fi 5 because it’s taken this long to get mainly Wi-Fi 5 end-user devices out there. So it will be a while before we see the impact of Wi-Fi 6.

As for mesh networks, they bring value but will not have a big impact. They really only make sense if there are more than two access points, and there are few multi-access households today. And a mesh installation is almost of no benefit if not managed properly. The real value is in the software.

Recommendations for the Future of the Wi-Fi Ecosystem

It’s clear that the future of the Wi-Fi ecosystem is in flux. Right now the network suffers from a serious bottleneck. Few people enjoy the data rates that will be needed for ambient computing to flourish. Carriers are increasingly burdened by the high cost of customer service.

For Wi-Fi to truly meet its potential, carriers, system vendors and chipset vendors need to focus on end-to-end delivery, rather than on segment delivery. That requires the industry to adopt standards that will enable devices and services to interoperate. Managing these devices from the cloud will also ensure their long-term viability.

If you are interested in learning more:


Best In-home Wi-Fi Product Winner: TalkTalk and ASSIA

We were very honored that the Wi-Fi Now Award judges awarded ASSIA and its customer TalkTalk the Wi-Fi Now 2019 Award for the Best In-Home Wi-Fi Product. TalkTalk’s game-changing Wi-Fi Hub uses the ASSIA CloudCheck platform to optimize internet to the home and Wi-Fi within the home. The award “honors the vendor creating the in-home Wi-Fi experience that all consumers want: Great Wi-Fi in every room of the house for all of your devices, all the time.”  The winners of the Wi-Fi Now 2019 Awards were determined by an independent board of judges and were announced at the Wi-Fi World Congress International Expo and Conference in London, UK on November 12th.

How TalkTalk Gave In-home Wi-Fi Consumers Great Wi-Fi in Every Room for All Devices and Services

TalkTalk realized that having the best, most reliable, and uncongested IP/MPLS network compared to your competitors is irrelevant to consumer perception if paired with a poor investment in Wi-Fi hardware and management. So to create the best in-home Wi-Fi product, TalkTalk developed its game-changing Wi-Fi Hub through a combination of customer feedback, academic direction, and strong partnerships to deliver to its customers their most sophisticated home gateway to date and provide the strongest connection in more corners of the home than ever before.

Despite the fantastic advantage that the Wi-Fi Hub would bring its customers, TalkTalk recognized that fantastic Wi-Fi hardware on its own would not suffice to create the best in-home Wi-Fi product or deliver the best quality of experience (QoE) to its customers. So, from the start, TalkTalk worked with its trusted connectivity partner, ASSIA, to deploy its Wi-Fi diagnostic and optimization software, ASSIA CloudCheck.

CloudCheck uses Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to predict key QoE parameters on individual Wi-Fi links between an AP and device without the need for software probes on both ends of the link. As a result, TalkTalk has real-time and historical views of millions of devices simultaneously and accurately, ensuring optimum performance and diagnostics into the home environment and empowering the end-user with its rich insight.

TalkTalk’s Use of Unique, Advanced Technology

TalkTalk selected a Broadcom based 4×4 AC2200 solution built by Sagemcom and sought leading industry expert opinion and test services from the likes of the University of Bristol Electrical Engineering team to help design, optimize, and test the best radio array. This was coupled with laboratory interoperability and environmental testing by the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab and Cartesian, which included running performance tests to the criteria of the latest Broadband Forum TR-398 in its development stages. This ensured the device was the best in-home Wi-Fi product, and no component lacked in appeal or magnificence.

The testing, benchmarking, and customer feedback showed that the device delivered the in-home experience customers demand from their service provider, but the evaluation and progression cycle didn’t stop at the initial development. With cooperation between TalkTalk, ASSIA, Sagemcom, UNH-IOL, and many other industry experts, the in-life experience was constantly evolved through in-depth Wi-Fi and device management learning from real-world deployments.

Collectively, this led towards the device scoring the highest in independent 3rd party performance testing, the highest customer satisfaction scores, and several independent product recommendations—such as the Which? Best Buy award for consumers and being recognized as the Best In-home Wi-Fi Product by Wi-Fi now judges.

In addition, ASSIA CloudCheck incorporates new artificial intelligence-based algorithms that relate operational network stability metrics to consumer QoE in its diagnostics and optimization methods. Using TalkTalk’s operational data (ex: customer call and dispatch rates), the AI-based algorithms run two learning loops for diagnostics and optimization, and both loops work to maintain the maximum stable data rate on a given link.

CloudCheck uses machine learning (ML) in its proactive care, proactive maintenance, churn predictor, and service-level upsell predictor features. Now, instead of waiting for a subscriber to have a poor quality of experience and contact customer support, CloudCheck will alert TalkTalk to either proactively solve the upcoming problem for the subscriber or contact the subscriber to coach them through self-help to prevent the poor quality of experience. CloudCheck is even able to automatically resolve some QoE problems, including switching devices to different access points to balance loads and switching the frequency band or channel the device is using.

CloudCheck Directly Enhances the Consumer’s Wi-Fi Experience

When considering the technical performance, TalkTalk has enjoyed the return on its investment through the highest benchmark results from independent sources.

Ultimately, performance in the real world matters most, and again, TalkTalk has reaped the benefits on the commitment to strong partnerships by realizing the lowest PTC by device, the highest CSAT/NPS, and the lowest OPEX through better first-time fixes, a reduction in unnecessary or incorrectly assigned truck rolls, and unnecessary equipment replacements.

These real-world benefits and the recognition as the best in-home Wi-Fi product are primarily attributed to TalkTalk’s integration of ASSIA CloudCheck which performs over 20 million optimizations a day.

So far, TalkTalk has seen a:

  • 8% increase in average active throughput on 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • 20% reduction in Wi-Fi interference
  • 23% increase in the number of stations that mainly operate in 5GHz band
  • 9dBm average RSSI gain
  • 30% of gateways with severe coverage issues had no coverage issues after optimization

Thanks to the continuous data collection and reporting to the cloud, particularly troublesome issues such as time-of-day problems, faulty CPE devices, and intermittent annoyances are automatically monitored and diagnosed without the customer having to do anything.

Growth Potential for the TalkTalk and ASSIA Best In-home Wi-Fi Product

In TalkTalk’s UK market, Wi-Fi and broadband supply and performance requirements are equally tantamount with one another. Providing a Wi-Fi access point that outperforms its rivals’ offerings, exceeds customer expectations, and can be provided to the majority of its new customers for free, entices new customers which is important to facilitate growth.

Wi-Fi Hub’s crown of ASSIA CloudCheck keeps customers’ Wi-Fi performance at its best, builds satisfaction, and reduces TalkTalk’s operating costs through lower support overhead and other costs associated with sub-optimal performance. The additional upfront investment in best-in-class hardware and Wi-Fi management capabilities pays off through a reduced total cost of ownership over a customer’s lifecycle with customer satisfaction levels that can only be achieved with such an investment.


Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards and Open Source

The landscape of Wi-Fi standards that will help service providers take responsibility for managing home Wi-Fi CPE is still evolving. There are several standards and open source initiatives that are intended to help service providers manage the in-home quality of experience for their subscribers, but none are fully specified or widely adopted yet. This puts the service provider looking for a technology path for managing home Wi-Fi that will serve them today, as well as tomorrow, in a tough situation.  Do they purchase a solution or build it themselves using an open source initiative? Which Wi-Fi standards will impact the effectiveness of their solution today and tomorrow? To help service providers navigate this territory, ASSIA’s Director of Standards, Ken Kerpez, put together a “Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards”.  The goal of this paper is to help organizations understand the different standards and open-source initiatives and the role each plays in cloud-based Wi-Fi management.

The Present Situation: The “Crossroads”

This section of the “Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards” looks at how the widely adopted TR-069 protocol, the defacto management standard, was not built to handle the volume and complexity of communications today. The protocol was not designed to cope with factors such as the number of devices, the volume of data, mesh networking, security issues, and multiple IoT devices. As a result, some service providers have developed in-house proprietary solutions. This trend, of course, reduces interoperability and agility.

Evolution of Competition and OTT Technology

This section of the “Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards” starts with the emergence of Over the Top (OTT) players such as Amazon and Google providing content, applications, e-commerce and consumer electronics creating a challenge for service providers, who were already facing increased costs. As result, many, who may have just implemented TR-069, started to move beyond TR-069 in a variety of ways. It breaks this evolution into three, somewhat overlapping phases.

  • Phase 1: Re-engineering propriety software stacks
  • Phase 2: Interoperability
  • Phase 3: Adoption of common initiatives

CPE Management Standards and Open Source Initiatives

This section of the “Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards” dives deep into the three major initiatives listed in the table below.

Initiatives

Description & Purpose

Supporting Organizations

USP/TR-369 Remote management of CPE which encompasses IoT. The next generation of the TR-069 standard. Broadband Forum, which has more than 100 principal members, both service providers and vendors (e.g., AT&T, SoftBank, Cisco and Qualcomm)
prplMesh An implementation of Wi-Fi Multi-AP / EasyMesh™ specification from the Wi-Fi Alliance to manage multiple access points with a single on-premise controller. Broadband Forum and prpl Foundation, an opensource, community-driven, collaborative, nonprofit foundation with more than 30 members (e.g., Broadcom, Intel and Vodafone) and more than 200 active engineers
OpenSync Open source middleware to enable common SDN control of, and data collection from, the CPE. Runs on a proprietary server. Plume

As the “Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards” discusses, these new standards such as USP/TR-369 will make it easier for service providers to take ownership of the Wi-Fi environment as an essential component of their broadband service delivery. These upcoming standards will also enable service providers to offer new and incremental services, expanding their revenue base.

Download the Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards

To learn more, we encourage you to download the “Guide to Cloud-based Wi-Fi Management Standards”.

Other related materials by ASSIA’s Director of Standards Ken Kerpez, that may be of interest to you are: