European fixed broadband providers are now scrambling to deliver gigabit speeds to their customers. But as they do, they are running into a fresh set of challenges, particularly in the home WiFi environment. How are providers and their vendor partners managing their new gigabit services and making sure that customers get what they’re promised? How can they improve the home WiFi experience?
Faster Wi-Fi connectivity is no longer impressing consumers, who want better connections throughout their homes, executives said at the Cable Next-Gen Europe event in London on November 6th. Panelists at a session titled: Managing 1 Gig Services & WiFi– Lessons Learned suggested ISP deployment of powerful lines of WiFi gateways would be required. For customers with larger homes, providing WiFi extenders that communicate with those gateways and a system that is all underpinned by cloud-based software and (often) a mesh-based architecture that can enhance and improve connectivity based on how that traffic is traversing the home’s WiFi network.
Owning the home WiFi network — or at least having deeper visibility into the WiFi network and providing systems that can understand changing traffic conditions and steer tablets, PCs and other devices to the optimal band or channel — could also prove to be a major operational benefit to cable operators and other ISPs. Since consumers tend to call the ISP whenever WiFi-related troubles arise, having this additional management layer is helpful in troubleshooting problems and reducing the need for costly truck rolls.
Though WiFi speed continues to be a key use case for gigabit services as consumers check to see if they are indeed getting what they pay for, there’s also an “expectation problem” that needs to be resolved because consumers expect high speeds to be delivered beyond the home gateway, said Michael Clegg, VP of global sales at Plume Design Inc. , a WiFi software and device maker that counts Comcast Corp. among its financial backers and deployment partners.
Stofa of Denmark is also moving ahead with 1-Gig deployments, but has likewise found that providing solid in-home WiFi performance and coverage is more important than ever, given that most of the devices that connect to the Internet in the home are doing so with WiFi, Uffe Callesen, lead architect at Stofa, said. However, it’s difficult to stay ahead of the technology curve with WiFi given the presence of a large mix of legacy devices that use an older version of the standard, he added.
And though few, if any, end devices require or use a full 1 Gbit/s connection, providing solid connectivity to every part of the customer’s home has become a paramount focus for service providers, Clegg pointed out.
Frode Elverum of Norway’s Get says whole-home Wi-Fi offerings can be a point of market differentiation for internet service providers.
Panelists here also did not view 5G, which is starting to emerge as a fixed wireless alternative broadband connection, as a significant threat to WiFi, particularly when it comes to in-home connectivity
“You’ll see a WiFi tail on the back end of 5G,” Clegg said, noting that some spectrum used for 5G services isn’t all that “friendly” in the home.
And the general story with residential 1 Gbit/s broadband services has not changed much — customer adoption of such speeds remains relatively low and, for now, have served primarily as a competitive response against rivals that run FTTP networks.
Norway’s Get started with a soft-launch of gigabit service and plans to ramp things up a bit more in early 2019 as it looks to put 1-Gig into its most attractive TV and broadband bundles. However, few customers need 1-Gig. “It’s more about the competitive positioning of our offering,” Elverum said.
“1-Gig, as a tier, is used really as a marketing tool,” agreed Eddy Mötter, CTO for Access Network, Solution Sales Department at Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd . While that’s the case today, it’s inevitable that apps and services that will require gigabit speeds will emerge. “That [capacity] space will be filled,” Challinor said, predicting that 1-Gig broadband will become the “de facto norm” within five to ten years.
To do so, broadband Internet providers will need to go to battle with a wide variety of companies who are now aiming to capture growing smart home revenue as their own, including blue chip technology companies like Google and Amazon. Those two are joined by a growing number of device manufacturers from well known brands like Netgear and Linksys to emerging smart home ecosystem enablers like Ring and Iris.
Patching all of these platforms together can be challenging and frustrating to end customers, and service providers often get the brunt of this frustration in the form of tech support inquiries, whether it’s the provider’s fault or not. Many providers have ventured into managed Wi-Fi services to help curtail this issue, while hoping to generate additional revenue in the process. GigaSpire takes this strategy much further, according to Calix.
In an analyst briefing, Calix EVP of Field Operations Michael Weening says GigaSpire far surpasses any Wi-Fi gateway platform that end customers can buy from any retail or online environment.
GigaSpire runs Calix’s EXOS operating system, which was introduced last year and extends their AXOS access operating system platform into the customer premises. Other GigaSpire features include:
- Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) capable, with up to 12 Wi-Fi streams
- Intelligent bandwidth optimization using MU-MIMO technology
- Universal and managed IoT supporting Zigbee, ZWave, combo BlueTooth Low-Energy and BlueTooth Classic
- Amazon Alexa is integrated into the GigaSpire MAX
- Instrumentation and analytics providing telemetry, performance and behavioral analytics that CSPs can leverage through the Calix Cloud
Calix also intends to build an ecosystem of smart home applications that will ride the GigaSpire platform, allowing service providers to offer and perhaps monetize smart home IoT applications. Examples provided include smart home device management, home security and network security.
Two Calix customers are acting as launch customers for GigaSpire, including Nebraska-based Allo Communications and Dubai-based du.
“Calix has been a great partner as we’ve built up our home Wi-Fi enabling the best connectivity but also the best customer service through ongoing network management,” said Brad Moline, president and CEO of ALLO Communications in press release. “This new smart home solution is anticipated to build on that connectivity advantage and really put it to use by delivering customized and differentiated service bundles to our subscribers.”
Smart Home-as-a-Service Goals
Calix’s goal with GigaSpire is to create an end-to-end smart home platform that service providers can take to the residential market and offer smart home-as-a-service. Whether that’s through better integration of existing smart home applications customer’s already have, or by introducing new ones through a smart home app ecosystem enabled through Calix designated partners. Calix will extend the GigaSpire platform to the SMB segment with a business focused smart IoT platform in 2019.