With the proliferation of devices, the home is rapidly becoming a dense environment requiring a new level of Wi-Fi performance and coverage. The wireless footprint of these devices varies considerably and, unless some order is established, is a sure way towards an inconsistent Wi-Fi experience. Wi-Fi performance, and by extension the user experience, will suffer due to many environmental factors, such as congestion, noise, and interference.
As dicussed in our latest report “From Managed Home Wi-Fi to Enabling the Secure Smart Home 2018-2023”, typically, users are unable to differentiate between these problems caused by Wi-Fi, and other problems in the access network, or in the underlying applications. Top factors affecting Wi-Fi performance include poor CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) placement, neighbour interference, dead zones due to the layout of the home, and presence of too many legacy devices operating exclusively at 2.4GHz.
Many residential subscribers are tackling the aforementioned problems in their own way (and at their own risk) by purchasing third-party hardware in retail stores. However, at the end, if they fail to fix their Wi-Fi issues, they will blame their service providers for it, resulting in higher service calls, churn, and OpEx (operational expenses) for the carriers.
Service providers’ strategies
As a result, service providers are now increasingly taking ownership of the Wi-Fi experience and are on a mission to educate their customers and manage their Wi-Fi experience for them. To this end, while some carriers sell home Wi-Fi as a service, others include it as part of their normal broadband service at no additional cost.
However, how do we define managed home Wi-Fi? In essence, the carrier takes over control of the home Wi-Fi experience by taking control of the equipment and gaining visibility of what is happening inside the home all the way to the client device.
Managing home Wi-Fi is more complex than it appears from the outsider perspective. In fact, it involves many aspects, and the corresponding technology solutions in supply reflect this complexity. There is no one single approach to solve all coverage and performance problems that would fit them all. Consequently, service providers can opt for various approaches to resolving fronthaul and backhaul issues. Some operators we spoke to, e.g., Comcast or Bell Canada, are in favor of a multi-AP strategy where a 4X4 radio is complemented with a number of extenders backhauled wirelessly with a dedicated channel. By contrast, European service providers have traditionally opted with a wireline backhaul and a limited number of access points.
Elements of managed Wi-Fi
There are different approaches and elements to solving the home Wi-Fi performance and coverage issues. Each vendor we spoke to has its own approach and “secret sauce” comprised of algorithms sold in modules to perform the essential functions needed to solve emerging problems.
In the graph below, we summarize these functions. Some functions are essential for resolving performance within a single access point (intra-AP), while others are core to enabling the coverage and roaming (inter-AP). Each software module is destined to perform a particular function, or set of functions. Where specifically in the network each module resides, as well as how it is implemented, varies across vendors and/or according to service provider preferences.
Towards the Smart Home
In recent years, the connected “smart” home has become the battleground for device manufacturers, network suppliers, and service providers, all wanting a piece of the action. In the traditionally controlled home space, service providers are under the attack by the entry of OTT suppliers such as Google, Amazon, and Apple in and they need to react or otherwise be forced to remain dumb pipe providers.
For operators, adaptive Wi-Fi is the first step towards converting the connected home into a smart-home by delivering a modern service delivery platform that is cloud-based, highly scalable, cognitive, and allows to leverage actionable data and create new applications and services sufficiently well and fast to outpace Amazon, Google, and Apple.
Along with the service delivery platform, cognitive Wi-Fi will enable to onboard, configure, and secure IoT (Internet-of-Things) devices, such as cameras, in millions of homes with common middleware. However, a number of challenges remain in ensuring interoperability and compliance between radios and communication protocols.
Managed Wi-Fi is a fast-growing market. We forecast that, by 2023, over 140 million broadband lines in the top 34 countries worldwide will have service provider managed Wi-Fi. This represents a 14% penetration of the total broadband lines in service in 2023.