Why we don’t think SON and WiFi have a great future together

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WiFi symbol in highlight concrete wall.

Last week both Qualcomm and Quantenna have used the word SON, a convenient acronym stolen from LTE, in conjunction with WiFi. In our view, it is a misnomer and SON (self-organizing/optimizing network) should be left firmly in the cellular camp.

Quantenna has used this as its answer to total home connectivity, calling its software framework looking after WiFi in the home SONiQ, while Qualcomm has added features to its year old WiSON.

First, WiFi is not a network, it is a cluster of individual separate networks which allow local network access. Access Points are aware of each other purely as interference, and avoid one another. SON implies a central controlling intelligence that makes a cluster of APs – be they home wide, or metropolitan area wide – aware of one another, through a controlling intelligence. The problem is that if you make WiFi like LTE, you get LTE pricing.

Rival attempts at making WiFi more “co-operative” have centered on mesh networks, offering multiple backhaul routes (like over 5.0 GHz or powerline) or through “adjusting” policy on the device on how it deals with sticky clients and bad apples. In other words, in those efforts, the increased intelligence remains in the AP, there are no cost implications to managing it. Only benefits. To us SON has cost implications that are bad and WiFi when it works, does not need to be weighed down by heading down the cellular central control route.

To sum up the two announcements this week, Quantenna has accepted the industry wide idea that each home needs more than one AP, but wants the large Quantenna router in the middle to do all the managing, centrally. And that way it can manage them whether they are APs or repeaters. Quantenna has always said that the answer is in better hardware to reach further with more beams from a single router, which carries more data. It has finally realized that by sticking to this, it has gone from being way out in the lead, to being marginalized, and SoniQ is its response.
Its statement says, “Whole home WiFi coverage is critical and in certain situations, a single access point or router may not adequately cover the entire home due to building materials, poor WiFi router placement, home size or other external factors. Add-ing WiFi repeaters can provide the additional coverage necessary for whole home coverage. However, these devices need to be self-managed to prevent increased end-user complexity.” At least the entire home is self-managed and doesn’t need help from the cloud.

SONiQ is then a framework for both mesh and star repeater connections. With zero-touch configuration client hand offs between routers, and client steering between 2.4GHz or 5GHz. So actually, it is very similar to the solutions on the market from Arris and AirTies, which have about 3 year’s head start.

Quotes from Telefonica tell us that it has already implemented this approach in its home routers in Spain.
Qualcomm Technologies made its WiSON announcement among a series of IoT announcements including the IoT Connectivity Plat-form, designed to help ensure, compatible and simultaneous use of WiFi, Bluetooth, CSRmesh connectivity, and 802.15.4-based technologies across a network with software acting as a kind of universal translator.

Changes to the WiSON features are supposed to deliver corner-to-corner WiFi, automated management and deals have already been announced with Netgear, Linksys D-Link, TP-Link ASUS and HiveSpot. Qualcomm says WiSON now supports powerline or Ethernet connections, an support for multi-hop network topologies.

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Peter has been involved in technology for 35 years, and is now the Lead Analyst at Faultline, a digital media research service offered by Rethink Technology Research. In his work at Faultline Peter has built an understanding of wired and wireless Triple Play and Quad Play models including multiscreen video delivery, taking in all aspects of delivering video files including IPTV. This includes all the various content protection, conditional access and digital rights management, encoding, set tops and VoD server technologies. Peter writes about all forms of video delivery is fascinated with the impact IP is having on all of the entertainment fields, and calls his service Faultline because of the deep faults which can devastate large established companies operating in the fields of consumer electronics, broadcasting, content delivery, content creation, and all forms of telecommunications operators, as content begins to be delivered digitally. Peter is currently advising major players and start up ventures in this field, and has both written and validated business plans in the area.

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