Qualcomm sees 200m WiFi AP revolution in US alone

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  • Operators could double or even treble the number of devices in next-gen WiFi
  • 4 US majors are about to go to market with aggressive services
  • It may trigger a patents battle and a dramatic reduction in retail WiFi devices

We suspect there is going to be both a patents battle in WiFi mesh software and that the reason this is important is that operators around the world will move lock, stock and barrel to multiple WiFi Access Points in each home, potentially doubling or even trebling the number of devices in next generation WiFi.

A side effect of this is likely to be more robust in-home WiFi, a dramatic reduction in retail WiFi devices and a reducing need for wired backhaul in most homes. And it all comes down to technical improvements. We managed to conclude all of this from one telephone conversation this week with Irvind Ghai, the Qualcomm Atheros VP Product Management, in charge of WiFi mesh.

First let’s take us back about 8 months, when Comcast came out with a surprise announcement at CES and said that by the end of 2017 it would offer software which would allow both the consumer and a remote help desk to control how WiFi is operating and it will roll this out to all of its 15 million Xfinity customers. Back in May it followed this up by saying it had signed a deal with US firm Plume (nee Wildfire.Exchange) and Comcast took a shareholding in the company.

Ghai revealed that all those Plume devices can have Atheros chips inside them, not too surprising since it was started by ex-Atheros people, but essentially Plume is supposed to be hardware agnostic. But more to the point, they will work with a Comcast X3 router which also has an Atheros chip inside it, so as Plume Adapts its technology all those chips at Comcast Xfinity could come out of Atheros.

At 15 million homes, and 3 Access Point (APs) per home, that should be some 45 million chips – in a year. In a country where there are only 118 million homes, that’s a lot of chips.

Ghai also said that he has two more tier 1 accounts which he cannot reveal as yet, which will show their hands this year. So that’s around 4 of the US majors about to go to market with very aggressive and very similar services covering as many as 74 million homes over the next few years and at 3 APs per home us-ing up 222 million APs. Potentially this will also improve performance for any Homespot based WiFi network, like the one that Comcast will use to support its new Xfinity mobile service.

Fundamentally this next generation all relies on mesh, (see our previous article Mesh Networks are on the Move )and the key ingredient of any mesh system is that each AP knows what is going on with the other APs in the mesh. They know if they change channel and have access to channel state information stored for neighboring channels, in case they have to jump to a spare channel, which is less congested. For instance they know if they have a neighboring AP from next door interfering and reducing their performance level even if they cannot witness that directly, but get it from another mesh node.

Until now most retail products which have targeted improving your home WiFi in the US, have focused on selling extender products which work in exactly the same way, except that they do not share information, they merely pass on the signal.

This makes the WiFi vulnerable to local interference and unable to offer client steering and band steering features. The emergence of Plume as a retail product is meant to do away with this. It is a genuine mesh product which has controlling software in the cloud, which takes all of this information that the mesh has, and takes clever policy decisions on how your WiFi should work. It uses client steering, which is where the network decides which AP is best for a particular client, and band steering, where it de-cides whether 2.4 GH or 5 MHz is best for the client. It is tough to work out how much of this is native on the Qualcomm chips and how much is managed by the Plume software.

This is a fantastic improvement for an operator’s help desk, which can avoid a huge percentage of truck rolls, because it knows by using that cloud data, what is going on with the home WiFi network. It can then use client steering and other facilities like cutting off a troublesome device or putting one device WiFi to sleep, to stop whatever is wrong with the network. The next step is to anticipate these changes and do them automatically and also to put them in the hands of the customer, who can control things through an app, such as putting their children’s devices’ WiFi connections to sleep, when they the child is supposed to sleep. Add stuff like a cloud based parental control and you have a tons of reasons to take your WiFi from your operator, not from retail.

This article is an abstract from the Wireless Watch service. Learn More. 

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