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AirTies bags Orange, extends SoftAtHome olive branch – for now

The ramifications of another major deal for Turkish WiFi expert AirTies, this week landing its extenders at Orange in France and Poland, looks on the surface to spell bad news for French TV and WiFi software vendor SoftAtHome – but why would Orange choose to butcher one of its own?

WiFi has been a central topic of discussion in Faultline Online Reporter’s multiple meetings with SoftAtHome this year, telling us at the recent Broadband World Forum event in Berlin that the company has spent two years fine-tuning its Smart WiFi product for its parent company Orange’s Livebox universal home gateway, enabling the Livebox itself to become a WiFi repeater, suggesting that there is no better place for a repeater than in the center of a home. Yet SoftAtHome is openly not a believer in mesh networking architectures, claiming that the technology cuts bandwidth in half – leaving the floor open for AirTies to pitch how its mesh technologies can provide an alternative method of improving in-home video streaming.

There are arguments for and against the two rival WiFi systems from AirTies and SoftAtHome, but the main issue here is how the competing products, both hardware and software, could possibly interoperate and mesh the SoftAtHome platform in the home gateway to the AirTies extenders?

A couple of clues lie in the press release, which states that, in France, Orange has selected AirTies’ Air 4920 wireless extenders as an accessory for the Livebox, whereas in Poland, Orange is deploying multiple 4920 extenders, but with the key mesh ingredient, which is absent in France. Therefore, SoftAtHome’s Smart WiFi platform is business as usual in France, but with support for new extenders from AirTies. Yet the fact that SoftAtHome only recently extended its contract with Orange to the countries outside of France suggests that it now supports mesh networking technology from AirTies in Poland.

Attempting to clear the air, AirTies provided the following statement to Faultline Online Reporter: “In France, our devices are being used as an extender only today. These are, of course, “mesh-ready” devices, and we plan to work collaboratively with SoftAtHome to support our mutual customer moving forward. However, we aren’t at liberty to elaborate further about those plans at this time. In Poland, our devices can be used as extenders or as a full mesh-solution. For the full mesh-solution in Poland, one mesh extender would be physically connected to a subscribers’ gateway and take the place of using the gateway’s embedded WiFi. A second mesh extender would be connected wirelessly back to the first extender to provide the in-home mesh network. That’s about all we can say for now, as it isn’t our place to speak on behalf of Orange or its future plans beyond what’s in the press release.”

There is still some confusion, as SoftAtHome told us, “Our Smart WiFi intelligence and orchestration remains in the home gateway in Orange’s solutions. By integrating AirTies into Orange’s Smart WiFi solution, SoftAtHome has again proven the interoperable aspect of its ecosystem. An open SoftAtHome platform enables Orange to manage all devices in the home and source any hardware for its extenders, including (but not limited to) AirTies.”

Specific details on how the competing WiFi devices are communicating harmoniously remain under wraps, but “plan to work collaboratively” is the key phrase here, so we expect some exciting developments to come. AirTies couldn’t comment on what its new deployment means for Orange’s existing access point suppliers Sagemcom and ZTE, although we suspect AirTies may either be already licensing its mesh software to these companies or negotiating to.

Despite claiming a collaboration is on the cards, there remains a fundamental clash between the two WiFi technology vendors. In Poland, Orange is rolling out the AirTies mesh solution which includes client steering technology as well as its cloud-based Remote Manager performance management system, which sounds similar to the Smart Monitoring component of SoftAtHome’s WiFi platform. This battle for the WiFi analytics side of operator accounts will be an interesting area to observe over the next few years, as operators look for ways to identify network problems then send a command to fix it, incorporating machine learnings algorithms to do so – thereby slashing call center and truck roll engineering costs.

The Orange Livebox is a universal home gateway powered by a modest Broadcom BCM63138 chip with just 5000 DMIPS of processing power, running the SoftAtHome platform with dual mode WiFi, but with G.fast components bundled onto it for connection to G.fast and VDSL lines. SoftAtHome also recently uncovered that its Smart WiFi runs the Quantenna QV860 chipset.

The latest win for AirTies has handed it an opportunity to prove itself to 40.3% of the entire French broadband market, reaching Orange’s 11.4 million broadband customers, plus 2.37 million in Poland. Orange has an additional 5.5 million broadband customers across Europe up for grabs which AirTies will no doubt be pitching hard for.

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