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Pulling the Pieces Together: A Look Back at 2020

David Stevenson
ASSIA CRO. BS in Physics and Electrical Engineering from the University of Sydney.

Posted on January 13, 2021

2020 was not the year anyone anticipated. The operational impact of the pandemic on our customers and their subscribers has been unprecedented.

As we look back on the last 12 months, there were incredible demands and significant progress. Our focus has been, and will always be, to ensure the highest quality-of-experience for ISP subscribers who depend on their services to live, work, and stay connected.

Here’s a rundown of our contributions last year.

We adjusted our focus based on the pandemic’s impact on network traffic patterns and connectivity.

When work-from-home and school-from-home mandates emerged in March, we published a report noting a significant change in Wi-Fi traffic volume and usage patterns. Wi-Fi upstream traffic increased by 80% and was occurring throughout the week, not just on the weekends as before.

By April, average monthly internet usage grew to 402.8 GB per household, a 47% increase from the previous year. Over the months to come, daily internet usage exceeded the highest usage peaks of 2019. With the heavy upstream demand from video conferencing and traffic rising faster than the infrastructure could handle, 52.9% of Americans reported experiencing monthly connectivity problems.

We quickly recognized that this “new normal” would become “the normal” as companies began to update their work-from-home policies. As a result, ASSIA launched EQUIPE™, the industry’s first work-from-home residential connectivity platform for SMB/enterprise IT admins to remotely monitor and improve internet connectivity for employees working from home.

We introduced a software-defined solution for next-generation broadband.

With everything going on in 2020, network operators, DSL providers, and even cable companies had large-scale initiatives in the works. They were either moving to fiber entirely or upgrading their existing copper and coaxial networks to include fiber. More reliable and less vulnerable to weather conditions, fiber networks’ speed and strength could meet increasing customer expectations for in-home Wi-Fi networks.

As consumer demand for video, video conferencing, and smart home/smart business services were exponentially growing before and during the pandemic, our GPON ExpresseⓇ played a crucial part in helping service providers deploy and operate multi-platform networks.

And as it turns out, diagnosing network issues with a software solution versus sending field technicians out when customers called proved even more valuable once stay-at-home orders were enforced.

We helped service providers troubleshoot remotely to keep everyone connected safely.

When subscribers can’t resolve issues independently, service providers experience increased support calls and possibly truck rolls to replace perfectly healthy hardware. Sometimes, these solutions don’t even fix the root cause of the performance issue.

Our GPON Expresse and CloudCheck products offer a way to improve network performance and give customer service agents full network-path visibility and diagnostics—from the exchange to connected devices inside the home. When customers call service centers, agents can troubleshoot problems and resolve them without an in-person visit.

This summer, we set out to quantify the exact impact of these offerings. We conducted a study of call data, optimization measurements, and diagnostic algorithms at one of our ISP customers. We found that we delivered $5.4 million in revenue (savings and new revenue) to our customers in just a few weeks. Beyond the savings, we significantly reduced customer churn and improved service delivery.

We understand the need for speed.

What matters to internet subscribers is that things work when needed. Beyond the user’s frustration, there are penalties for promising and not delivering. Global telecommunications regulators have adopted stringent rules requiring service providers to deliver advertised/minimum speeds, with financial consequences when commitments aren’t met.

Quality of Experience (QoE) is more than raw speed measurement — it’s about providing the internet experience that consumers require. Our CloudCheck® TruSpeed product uses cloud-based machine learning to intelligently monitor and measure broadband and Wi-Fi speeds while assessing bottlenecks. Network lines are regularly tested (including during peak hours), and the data collected can be aggregated for regulatory compliance reporting.

We know where we’re going.

As 2020 came to a close, we’re focusing even more on technology advances that will affect end-users, and ultimately service providers. Wi-Fi 6 is one example.

Wi-Fi 6 is the next generation of Wi-Fi standards. It will undoubtedly have a significant effect on quality of experience. With 70% of data traffic on cellular mobile devices being on Wi-Fi and the proliferation of IoT devices, the current Wi-Fi infrastructure is reaching its limits, especially when used in high-density environments like apartment buildings.

Wi-Fi 6 can accommodate the growing number of internet-enabled devices coming onto the market. It’s 6x times faster than Wi-Fi 5 and is better at balancing loads by only using what bandwidth is needed when it’s needed. ASSIA is working with service providers, CPE vendors, and chipset manufacturers to support Wi-Fi-6-enabled devices as they come to the market.

In 2021, we’ll be looking for ways to deliver even more value to our customers and their subscribers. We’ll continue to provide cutting-edge, cost-effective solutions to fix the right problems in the right places with a consistent QoS and QoE irrespective of the device, connection, application, or time of day. We are working on a true end-to-end solution as an extension of our Commande initiative, using the data captured by Expresse and CloudCheck for access lines (over DSL, fiber, cable, or mobile networks). These data sources will feed our ML/AI algorithms to help diagnose the right problems at the right place and time and assist our customers in making more informed decisions on where to invest in their infrastructure and what services to offer their customers.


RDK Tech Summit

RDK is an open-source software platform for the connected home that standardizes core functions used in broadband devices, set-top boxes, and IoT. It enables operators to manage their devices; control their business models; and customize their apps, UIs, and data analytics to improve the customer experience and drive business results. The RDK community comprises more than 430 companies, including CPE manufacturers, SoC vendors, software developers, system integrators, and service providers.

And now, the RDK Tech Summit has become a significant industry event with presentations, discussions, Q&As, a hackathon, and operators sharing their hands-on experiences with the community. The event is an important driver for RDK innovation.

ASSIA took part in the RDK-B (Reference Design Kit-Broadband) session on November 18.
Comcast’s Charles Moreman introduced the session and reminded us that there are now over 30 million devices running the RDK-B platform. Now, its use has extended beyond cable modem devices (where ASSIA first gained experience implementing its agent) to cover the broader range of access technologies that telecom operators have adopted.

We saw for ourselves that RDK Central had built a robust ecosystem with thousands of people registered on the Wiki. Further, an extensive set of software solutions were represented, which provide critical features for Wi-Fi/mesh management, parental controls, advanced security, plug-in interfaces for cloud-based management, and service provider telemetry. ASSIA is leveraging these functions and supports establishing a robust hardware abstraction layer (HAL) to simplify support across hardware variants as part of our well-established, multi-vendor strategy.

We’ve gained significant experience working with RDK-B-based devices. First, we needed to obtain the required data for our ML/AI algorithms and the controls to enable real-time action when managing Wi-Fi and mesh networks. Further, we worked on monitoring CPE health and end devices to ensure the throughput, latency, and consistency from the network could support the full range of video streaming, conferencing, and web services that are now such a big part of everyday life.

In other news, we thought it was interesting that the Portuguese ISP, NOS Inovacao, is using Ripe Atlas technology to guarantee that the network is delivering services as promised. They are also evolving from separate, hardware-based to an embedded software probe, a bit like what we’ve seen develop for Ofcom and CAF-II using embedded agents to measure across the entire network.

Also relevant is CommScope’s development of TR369/USP agent for the RDK platform. ASSIA is a champion for this movement and has taken a leadership position in BBF to drive USP adoption. We’re supporting the Wi-Fi Alliance to help define the set of data elements that a USP agent should report to the cloud as standard protocol. With time, we expect USP to evolve to provide all the functions as we have today with the ASSIA agent embedded on RDK or other platforms.


Here’s Why 2021 Will Be the Year for Wi-Fi 6

The holiday season is here. And so is something that can make home internet work better. On November 10, Apple announced that its newly released MacBooks, Mac Mini, and now the iPhone 12 would support Wi-Fi 6. Consumer Reports recently published an article explaining why it’s time to buy a Wi-Fi 6 router. Manufacturers are rushing to add Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices to everyone’s shopping lists.

As a service provider, you need to know what Wi-Fi 6 offers, anticipate likely questions from your subscribers, and understand how ASSIA can help you support your customers as this standard comes to maturity.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the next generation of Wi-Fi standards. It was a planned effort designed to accommodate the growing number of internet-enabled devices coming on the market and appearing in places of business, in homes, and pretty much everywhere. While Wi-Fi 6 has been around for over a year, there are three solid reasons for its suddenly rapid roadmap.

  • Work-from-home and stay-at-home mandates led to unprecedented home internet usage and associated challenges.
  • The FCC recently ruled to make available new spectrum “to enable wider channels that can be immediately used by Wi-Fi 6 to support gigabit connectivity with lower latency, improved coverage, and better power efficiency.”
  • The additional 6GHz band is known as Wi-Fi 6E. Essentially it’s like the FCC turned a two-lane into a six-lane highway.

At a high level, Wi-Fi 6 solves several fundamental problems for end-users:

Speed
Wi-Fi 6 is about 6x times faster than Wi-Fi 5 though speed is largely dependent on the number of access points, devices on the network, and environment. Overall, users can get Wi-Fi speed, stability, and availability on the level of a wired connection.

Consistent access and performance
As important as speed is consistent access and optimized performance. This is where Wi-Fi 6 shines. As we bring more and more internet-enabled devices and applications into the home—from video games to online education to light switches, Wi-Fi 6 can use what bandwidth is needed, only when it’s needed. Essentially, a way better job of balancing the load.

Capacity and density
Whether your teenagers in the next room have hijacked the internet or all your neighbors and/or roommates are on video chat, Wi-Fi 6 can handle co-channel interference. It solves for dense environments with myriad devices and simultaneous connections.

Reach and coverage
Another common challenge that users experience with Wi-Fi is reach. You walk around the house, and your Wi-Fi comes and goes. In some places, it’s an internet dead zone. Wi-Fi 6 can offer consistent coverage throughout your home and a better job at prioritizing access for applications, devices, and users.

Better security
WPA3, emerged in 2018, but only now in Wi-Fi 6 is a new security protocol that makes it harder for hackers to crack a user’s password with repeated guesses. It also makes some data less useful if hackers get it.

How does Wi-Fi 6 work, technically?

Wi-Fi 6 offers several many capabilities to improve Wi-Fi network coverage and performance. Some include:

  • OFDMA (Orthogonal frequency division multiple access): Enables greater network efficiency and lower latency for uplink and downlink traffic.
  • Multi-user MIMO (Multi-user multiple input, multiple output): Allows for more downlink data to be transferred and to handle more devices concurrently.
  • TWT (Target wake time): Improves network efficiency and extends device battery life by letting devices “sleep” when they are not used.
  • BSS (Basic Service Set) Coloring addresses densely populated areas where networks are transmitting lots of data, typically in proximity which leads to overlaps between access points, interference, and latency.

These are just some of the technical details. Learn about the rest here.

Will non-Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices become obsolete?

Yes and no. Yes, Wi-Fi 6 will eventually eclipse older devices. But, no, because Wi-Fi 6 software and devices are still being rolled out. The good news about standards is that new devices will be Wi-Fi 6 enabled by default.

As The Verge advises, the one purchase you might want to add to your holiday shopping list is a Wi-Fi 6 router. Especially if you plan to invest in a Mac, Asus, Samsung, or Lenovo laptop. Here’s why:

“If your router doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, you won’t see any benefits, no matter how many Wi-Fi 6 devices you bring home. (You could actually see a benefit, though, connecting Wi-Fi 5 gadgets to a Wi-Fi 6 router, because the router may be capable of communicating with more devices at once.)”

ASSIA has been working with service providers, CPE vendors, and chipset manufacturers to enable the value that Wi-Fi 6 can bring. 2021 is the year when it will all come together—home network, new devices, and cloud management—to deliver a superior quality of experience for the end-user.


A Wireless-Wireline Physically Converged Architecture: Introducing Cellular Subscriber Lines

As customer demand for high-bandwidth services increases, providers look for ways to maximize existing infrastructure and manage costs. ASSIA is proud to be at the forefront of an innovative approach to solve this challenge: CSL (Cellular Subscriber Lines). CSL, as detailed in this paper published for IEEE, is a ground-breaking new concept for greatly extending radio coverage and data rates. CSL re-uses existing wireless-wireline architecture—copper phone, Ethernet, coaxial cable, and other wireline connections—to deploy numerous wireless small cells in an economical manner. The value of this approach is improved bandwidth at a much lower cost.

How CSL Works

CSL leverages existing cabling in a very low-cost architecture. As shown in the figure below, a single BaseBand Unit (BBU) communicates over existing cabling to many remote radio heads. The CSL-IFs down-convert the wireless baseband unit’s (BBU’s) signals to the appropriate frequencies for transmission through the wireline connection, with up-conversion at the CSL-RF. The same process also runs in reverse (with up-conversion at the CSL-RF) to provide bi-directional transmission. Complex modulation, coding, signal processing, MIMO, and other functions are performed at the BBU. The CSL-RF remote radio head (RRH) only needs to perform simple analog frequency conversion and amplification, thereby allowing a very low-cost, small and simple radio head. Further, communication over the wire is exceedingly simple, using existing cabling, with no need to run new fiber, and no costly optical to electrical (O2E) conversion.

 

Identical to 4G LTE and 5G NR, CSL modulates OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) signals, thereby providing complete interoperability with existing 4G/5G systems and handsets. The authors show that these OFDM signals are advantageously also nearly optimal for wireline transmission, when sent at the proper frequencies. For more details, refer to the IEEE paper to learn how cellular’s OFDM systems can be used to implement near-optimal DSL performance with the wireless signals.

Because radio head/base stations are simply-constructed and low-power, they cost less to deploy. When feeding many distributed small cells, these cost-savings could be significant.

Cost-Effective Wireless Deployment

With CSL, the baseband wireless link now includes the metallic baseband/IF signals, which has less attenuation than the same-length wireless link. Furthermore, several spatial streams can be multiplexed on single wire, allowing low-cost deployment of enhanced MIMO (Multi-Input, Multi-Output) systems for increased wireless performance.

Further, the electrical power that existing copper wire may deliver to the home could also energize the CSL-RF, solving the thorny problem of powering numerous small cells. Similarly, this architecture accommodates Wi-Fi systems, which is well-suited to enterprise deployments where Ethernet cable is present. The super-heterodyning concept of IF and RF can enable very low-cost proliferation and allow cloud-based control to enhance existing standardized infrastructure.

IDEAL MU-MIMO

CSL systems may well provide an excellent solution to the increasing need for more cost-effective wireless deployment so that the promise of a highly connected wireless future can advance with much less economic risk. CSL can enable the 5G vision

Massive Bandwidth Lift

As consumers demand better wireless quality in- and out-of-home, quality of service is critical but potentially costly. CSL would address this increasing demand with less economic risk. Cellular-wireless (or Wi-Fi-wireless), MCS, and MIMO methods’ re-use on copper costs less, uses more existing infrastructure, and improves wireless residential networks’ profitability.

Further, and possibly most dramatic, is the spectral efficiency, increase in effective speeds, and low latency provided by the ability of CSL to provide a cost-effective massive decrease in cell radius.

Data Rates (down plus up)

In the example above, an approximate decrease by a factor of 5 in cell radius provides over a factor of 25 increase in cellular reuse, with a consequent factor of 25 increase in effective bandwidth.

In summary, CSL is a dramatic and less expensive way to put a cell base station at every house so every customer gets a massive bandwidth increase for their mobile devices. By using their existing copper wiring (pair cable or coax), providers avoid the need to deploy a lot of fiber to the home.

While an exceptional solution for areas with wireline access built out 20-50 years ago, CSL is also a disruptive concept for the many countries that have already started to invest in getting fiber to every home.

For more information on CSL, contact the ASSIA sales team.


How much value can be created with remote work?

Tuncay Cil
Chief Strategy Officer

Posted on October 5, 2020

Over the next five years, $8 trillion in value gains will be realized by companies migrating to a modern and distributed workforce.

Globally, a viable work from home population exists within eight regions, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and higher-earning portions of ASIAPAC.

A few common and specific traits make these regions strong candidates for work from home, such as high personal and corporate income level, availability of infrastructure, the level of economic development, and a cultural openness to remote work.

Collectively, these eight viable geographies have a population of one billion. The working populace consists of 400 million people, and of those, 160 million will be permanent work from home.

Not only does this translate to a massive talent pool of remote workers, it’s also a major economic benefit to organizations interested in adopting a modern workforce.

Each remote worker saves their employer an average of $10,000 a year on workspace and related expenses. And these benefits are realized by employees as well, who can save between $2,500 and $4,000 a year spending part of the week working from home.

Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Shopify, and more have already announced long-term plans for permanent work from home. Shopify has permanent plans for employees to be remote-only and intend to rework office spaces to reflect this change.

Reducing the importance of a centralized location makes it easier for companies and organizations to re-allocate operational budgets to other areas. Gartner found that 22% of companies have either made or are planning to make cuts to real estate expenses in coming months as a response to work from home. Moody’s Analytics is already forecasting 20% vacancies for commercial real estate by 2022.

But the economic benefits are not just in rent, utility, and maintenance. Companies with remote work already see 25% lower employee turnover, lower payroll expenses, and higher productivity.

Across 160 million remote workers, these savings translate to $1.6 trillion in annual value creation. Over five years, that’s $8 trillion.

 

More from our Thoughts on Work Series


What’s driving employers to remote work?

Tuncay Cil
Chief Strategy Officer

Posted on

We’re witnessing a long-term shift towards working from home. Nearly three in four CFOs plan to shift a portion of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions. Beyond public health and safety, there are several financial drivers incentivizing work from home.

  • A reduction in operating expenses.
  • Payroll savings associated with lower cost of living.
  • Productivity gains.
  • An expansion of the labor pool, including access to a global workforce.

We’re already seeing companies alter their leases and on-site contracts as part of a permanent adjustment. A recent Gartner survey revealed that in April of 2020, 13% of respondents had already made cuts to real estate expenses, with an additional 9% planning to do so in the near future.

This coincides with the cost saving efforts we’re seeing companies make in technology spend and other on-site overhead that have become less critical in a predominately distributed, work from home environment.

Projected annual savings for workers and employers with remote work.

Multiplied across a workforce, savings associated with reduced operational expenses translates to significant numbers. According to Global Workplace Analytics, companies will save an average of $11,000 a year per employee when employees work from home at least part-time.

Rent and utility costs. Maintenance. Travel expenses. It all adds up, and not just for the employer.

The same Global Workplace Analytics report demonstrates cost savings for employees who work from home. This includes a reduction in transportation costs, fewer lunches bought out, and less need for professional wardrobe and accessories. Annually, employees who spend a portion of their week working from home are saving between $2,500 and $4,000.

But it’s more than just cost savings, employees who work from home are actually happier and more productive.

A Harvard Business Review study found a 4.4% increase in productivity when employees work from home. This boost comes from a variety of sources, including better work-life balance, a decrease in commute time,  quieter noise levels, and fewer interruptions.

Projected savings over the next five years for remote work companies.

The shift towards a modern and distributed workforce is proving to be incredibly popular with employees. 44% of employees would take a pay cut to permanently work from home. One 2019 study shows that remote employees work an average of 1.4 days more than their office counterparts. Another shows a dramatic reduction in absenteeism.

The positive response from employees demonstrates a bigger benefit than a reduction in costs. It shows demand for a modern approach to work.

 

More from our Thoughts on Work Series

 


Is the work from home economy here to stay?

Tuncay Cil
Chief Strategy Officer

Posted on

Past, present and future of work-from-home trend.

On December 31st, 2019, there were around 25 million Americans working from home. That’s about 16% of the population in total, with 6% of the workforce holding full-time remote positions.

In March 2020, twenty million jobs were lost or furloughed, mainly due to an inability to transition into telework. Simultaneously, companies rapidly moved 60-80% of the remaining personnel to work from home.

But let’s talk about the future.

When offices open up again, most experts project 40-50% of American employees will spend a portion of their week working from home. Using a conservative estimate, this comes out to roughly 55 million Americans, more than twice the number of employees working from home than when we started the year.

Jonathan Dingel and Brent Nieman from the University of Chicago School of Business found that 37% of American jobs can be done entirely from home. Other studies, like World Bank Group’s Jobs’ Amenability to Working from Home, estimate the number of American work from home jobs to be closer to 61%.

The difference comes down to how you classify face-to-face occupational requirements. A waiter will be unable to fulfill their duties remotely, whereas an accountant is capable of doing many of their functions with only a computer and an internet connection.

As companies make adjustments and remove obstacles to remote work, the percentage of work from home jobs goes up. Some positions will be able to adopt work from home habits for at least part of the week. For example, a job that once required daily face-to-face interactions might rely more heavily on telecommunication and occasional, scheduled visits to the office.

Positions capable of pivoting to work from home typically garner higher pay than those unable to shift to telework. All in, remote-friendly positions account for 46% of all wages earned in the country. These affluent positions include tech, legal, financial, engineering, administration, and management.

Companies are already allocating significant portions of their budgets to promote a long-term work from home strategy, including monthly stipends for expenses. There’s an opportunity to meet the needs of organizations who want to keep these high-earning employees engaged and productive.

As occupational requirements change to better accommodate remote work, an even larger pool of employees will need support. Both Dingel/Nieman and the World Bank Group identified areas outside the United States with viable remote work opportunities.

So is work from home economy here to stay?

 

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What’s the biggest obstacle to work from home?

Tuncay Cil
Chief Strategy Officer

Posted on

 

Over the past six months we’ve learned the important role residential internet plays in our daily and professional lives. With a projected 55 million Americans expected to continue working from home post-pandemic, we are now seeing a permanent shift towards a distributed and modern workforce. This also means greater reliance on a strong and stable internet connection.

In March, new usage and Quality of Experience data emerged from the surge of shelter-in-place internet activity. By April, average monthly usage jumped to 402.8gb per household, a 26% spike from January and a 47% increase from the previous year.

2x increase in upload traffic from Feb-March, 2020.

To accommodate this new demand, ISPs and carriers took drastic steps to increase speeds and lift data caps on residential customers to support work from home. While most networks previously planned out additional capacity over years, the pandemic forced telecoms to act faster in order to maintain connectivity.

This spike in internet activity coincides with the large uptake in streaming, gaming, and teleconferencing. Average daily use in 2020 has already exceeded the highest usage peaks of 2019.

This includes single-day records for the major video conferencing applications, like a 2,900% increase in Zoom participants, 2.7 billion minutes spent in Microsoft Teams, and 3,800 years spent in Google Meet. Again, all in a single day.

Several of these applications saw triple-digit increases in search volume as work-from-home users sought out ways to maintain communication with colleagues and collaborators. Zoom witnessed a 1,562% increase in daily search volume over February and March.

Percentage of consumers experiencing connectivity issues following mass work-from-home company policies.

But most of these applications are running over connections that are not equipped to handle the heavy upstream demand of video conferencing. Over these periods of high use, upload traffic has doubled, rising at a faster pace than the infrastructure was built for. This is one of the reasons 52.9% of Americans experience monthly connectivity problems.

Daily, 15.5% of users encounter some degradation to Quality of Experience. Over a video call, these dips in connectivity manifest as delays, glitches, and breaks in communication. Eventually, poor Quality of Experience results in a loss of productivity. Not just for the user, but for everyone participating in the call.

With 42.8 million Americans living without access to stable broadband, it’s clear that most residential homes do not have the enterprise-grade internet needed to support the data-hungry apps of remote work. Around 10 million live with poor cell signal and daily internet connectivity issues, which will not be conducive to communications or productivity.

Teleconferencing requires uninterrupted transfers of data packets, a need that only grows for large groups and screen sharing. This will be a major challenge for employers who look to embrace the benefits of a long-term remote strategy (link to modern and distributed post).

More than half of all Americans say that the internet has been essential during COVID-19, especially for those who plan to work from home in the future. Nearly 43% of full-time employees hope to stay remote, if possible. To do so successfully, companies, carriers, and employees will need to see a boost in connectivity.

 

More from our Thoughts on Work Series