In 2019 we are celebrating 20 years of Wi-Fi, and it is amazing how far we have come. But as Wi-Fi has become a part of our daily lives and smart devices fill our home, our demands and expectations of Wi-Fi are increasing. Looking forward, I’ve compiled seven factors that will shape the future of home Wi-Fi during its 3rd decade.
1. Managed Home Wi-Fi that Delivers Broadband to the Device will have Significant Value to Consumers and Service Providers
Wi-Fi performance matters to consumers. If consumers pay for 50Mb/s to their home, they expect to get at least that to their device wherever they are, and they choose their provider based on their experience and perception of who best delivers what they pay for. But since most consumers don’t know if their performance problems are caused by their Wi-Fi or the network, they call their service provider when their home Wi-Fi does not perform well, which means:
- Costly customer service calls and field visits increase
- Networks and homes need upgrades to meet customer satisfaction demands
ASSIA saw deployments of our Wi-Fi management solution, CloudCheck, triple in 1Q2019, so I predict the future of home Wi-Fi will see more and more service providers take responsibility for managing home Wi-Fi in the first part of the coming decade.
2. Standards are Needed as Industry Moves to Multiple Access Points and Mesh
Wi-Fi has changed the way we consume content in our homes. Home entertainment behavior has moved from families watching TV shows together on a television—often connected via cable—to many devices throughout the home concurrently using Wi-Fi for entertainment, each of which requires good coverage and availability. Today, family members are:
- Streaming videos from their device anywhere they are
- Making phone calls via Wi-Fi and messaging apps
- Shopping online
- Conducting business using cloud apps
- Interactively playing multi-person/multi-location games with virtual reality
As a result, consumers care about their Wi-Fi Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) and expect their service providers to:
- Provide high throughput with low latency
- Optimize the service to each device based on what they are doing
- Manage channels and bands as a shared resource within and between homes
The resulting complexity and required interoperability are forcing the industry to move from single-vendor proprietary solutions to standards-based solutions that let consumers mix and match from multiple vendors to meet their unique needs. Standards such as the recently announced Wi-Fi Certified Data Elements™ will be critical for the future of home Wi-Fi. This is why ASSIA has committed significant resources to participating in standards bodies including the Wi-Fi Alliance, Broadband Forum, NICC, ITU, and ETSI.
3. EasyMesh Will Offer Agility and Freedom to Service Providers
EasyMesh is one such standard that defines a standard way for access points and home gateways to talk to each other, allowing devices to be mixed and matched in the home. In the future of home Wi-Fi, this will free service providers from having to bring CPE vendors together to figure out how to get their devices to interwork, which has historically meant service providers had to deploy proprietary software across the devices and take responsibility for testing and maintenance. In many ways, our dependency on the chip manufacturers has held the industry back and been a major obstacle to growth of the ecosystem. The last two decades has shown that chipset vendors don’t have a viable software business and that they should allow others to modernize the software stack.
To date, ASSIA has been a neutral player in this phase of the market with a software solution that can be deployed on any device. As EasyMesh gets implemented as a standard feature of CPE, ASSIA will be able to make our solution work from the gateway to any device. We expect to see this really take off as EasyMesh R2 gets finalized at the end of 2019. That is when we expect to see a lot of devices come to market, which will allow service providers to select a combination of vendors and even offer Wi-Fi management themselves for device users. It will take a while to get new devices through certification, but ASSIA is working to make it a simple software upgrade from our current solution to EasyMesh R2.
4. Interoperability Standards like TR369 and OpenSync Hold Promise for Cloud-Managed Wi-Fi
TR369 is an open standard which uses more modern protocols allowing more detailed and real-time information to be used by cloud-based algorithms to monitor and take action, which we think is the future of home Wi-Fi. It will take a little while to mature and the standard will need to stay up to date as chip and device vendors innovate. It will also need testing to make sure management services and devices interwork properly. That said, TR369 has the promise of doing for Wi-Fi what TR69/TR98/TR181 tried to do but missed the mark—enabling the cloud-based management of Wi-Fi to solve problems in real time. ASSIA is engaged in defining TR369 and has a lot of experience to contribute from using our high-performing protocol.
ASSIA is involved in OpenSync, PRPL, and a several service provider initiatives all aimed at solving the same problem—how to speed time to market for new services and features by reducing interworking problems between management and device as new software is deployed. To a degree, NFV is working to solve similar issues for the network, but like it, we are seeing multiple camps and we still have a way to go for things to mature.
5. Supporting Multiple Dwelling Units (MDUs) Will Become Critical in the Future of Home Wi-Fi
MDUs is a subject I’ve had quite a lot of experience with from a previous phase of my career doing management for GPON and 3GPP small cells. There is definitely huge value to coordinate management across adjacent living units which are within range to interfere with each other’s radio connections. Wi-Fi 6 helps by adding more capacity (channels and bands) and things like MIMO and low-power IoT device operation to the mix. But it will take a while to roll out and for a system to be able to optimize behavior across devices.
In current service provider trials (for 60 and 100 LU’s), ASSIA is seeing real advantage in coordinating Radio Resource Management across devices, such as the better use of the channels and frequency bands, increases in the median transmission rates, and higher availability to create a better quality of experience for users.
6. Wi-Fi 6 (802.11AX) Will Make a Difference, but Not Right Away
While devices are already available which boast Wi-Fi 6 capability, they are not cheap, and experience says it will take a few years to really have a wide impact. Tri-band radio devices and mesh are already happening, and, to a degree, they are solving the same problems—coverage and throughput. Wi-Fi 6 also needs a new generation of consumer devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc.) to take advantage of the new features, which will also take a while.
ASSIA is supporting Wi-Fi 6-capable devices now, but we think it will take another generation of chipsets and devices before the cost comes down and for Wi-Fi 6 to become a significant contributor to the future of home Wi-Fi. In addition, more work is required to implement all the new features in the standard such as MIMO and channel sharing.
7. 5G Has Value but Wi-Fi Will Continue to Have its Place
What we are seeing is that mm wave and the 5G standard promise to become part of the industry solutions for the final leg of broadband to the home. 5G still needs a lot of fiber to the distribution point. Where there are copper or cable drops in place, access technologies are keeping up to deliver bandwidth to the home (ASSIA is very involved in helping manage and optimize these services), but Wi-Fi will remain a key part of in-home distribution where we need something that can go through walls or be distributed across a home to give in-house coverage.
In anticipation of 5G as part of the future of home Wi-Fi, ASSIA is working with service providers with our combined solutions which not only optimize broadband to the home but also broadband in the home and we are now developing solutions for broadband to the device.
Future of Home Wi-Fi Summary
In summary, it’s been a great 20 years and we have made a lot of progress. But as the 7 factors demonstrate, the industry has a lot of work to do to meet the increasing consumer demands and expectations for the future of home Wi-Fi, and ASSIA is here to do our part. ASSIA looks forward to making significant contributions to the future of home Wi-Fi in the decade to come.