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12 May 2016

AirTies promises theoretical max performance using WiFi tools

Turkish WiFi pioneer, AirTies Wireless launched a piece of software this week designed to eat into the millions of broadband service calls around the world. It calls it Remote View, and it allows engineers initially, but later both consumers and help desks, to understand what’s currently going wrong with their WiFi and to instantly fix it.

It’s a big claim and we wouldn’t repeat it idly, but we know Bulent Celebi, chairman of AirTies, and his entire team, have made it their life’s work to understand WiFi, and we first got dragged into this subject when he asked us to write a white paper on “What’s Wrong with WiFi.” During that project Celebi and his team not only explained the kinds of problems that WiFi can encounter, but he tried to model it by sniffing the air around a typical WiFi home, and mapping what was happening. It is an improvement to those original visual maps, along with in-depth reporting on data usage per device, both in real time and over time, that forms the bulk of its new product.

Celebi maintains that WiFi had gone as far as it can down the hardware path and now it is the turn of software to manage and look after the MIMO beamforming multi-user WiFi that is already being built into chips, and to do it more intelligently.

AirTies then went silent for a while until last July it came out with something it calls Client Steering, the ability in a multi Access Point WiFi environment, to force a client to connect to a more appropriate Access Point than the one it is currently attached to.

There is a problem in WiFi which is called the “sticky client” problem and it is an extension of the “bad apple” problem. A sticky client is a device which is talking to an Access Point that is using beamforming, positive signal reinforcement to create an artificial beam from multiple antennas, that is stronger when aimed at that client. The client thinks it has a really good connection and it cannot sense a better one from another AP. However if it moves further from that AP, it often reaches a point where it would never choose that AP if it tried to re-attach. In order to reach it the AP is using up WiFi time and resource that would be better spent on nearer devices (the bad apple problem) because there really are better APs to be connected to. The reason that the client cannot sense this is because the new AP hasn’t yet connected to it and exercised its ability to form beams, so the client thinks it has the best connection it can get.

So this is an unexpected consequence of making the hardware better, and to get around it, the network must collect all the information needed to make the decision on behalf of the entire network and for this client, making it break its connection with one AP and connect to another.

AirTies does this by creating a form of proprietary WiFi mesh, a series of connected APs inside the home (for instance one in the home gateway, one in the set top and one at a remote TV upstairs), which all use the same SSID, but which can talk to one another and send minimal amounts of control information to one another, to resolve such issues either automatically, or by sharing that information with the user (customer or field engineer) or sending it to a remote cloud location (help desk) and allowing manual steering of these devices to take place.

So after a few years of looking into this AirTies say it has finally cracked the entire equation. Celebi told us, “We are now achieving over 90% of the theoretical maximums that WiFi is supposed to achieve. This represents something like 8 times the previous average performance.”

We have said many times that WiFi which has a PHY + MAC performance of 1 Gbps, often peaks at 50 Mbps to 70 Mbps around the home or even less. This is because of dead spots and the issues we mentioned before of sticky clients and bad apples, and because devices tend to congregate around the 2.4 GHz connection if there is one, often because early smartphones ONLY connected to 2.4 GHz.

We queried Celebi on why he had never been able to model WiFi usage before? “We had to introduce the Client Steering idea before it would work. All the models we introduced before just failed to behave as predicted, until we had that in place.” It was one of those blinding realizations which product guys have after 3 or 4 years dancing around the problem when one of the team says, “What about if we do this?” and everyone has a lightbulb moment.

So what this has all led to is Remote View, which amounts to being able to monitor in-home WiFi performance from anywhere in the world, and he shows us a dozen homes in New York in real time right now, and their different WiFi usage patterns and devices and how much bandwidth is flowing through them all. The system is available for field trials immediately the company says.

It was virtually surreal to then go to our next meeting at TV Connect where AirTies showed us this, to see a similar demonstration from Arris. This tells is one thing for sure, that at least one of the major US operators has an RFP out for this type of function, or else how could it emerge in more than one roadmap at the same time.

The Arris system used a WiFi extender, so ran across different SSIDs, and the client steering approach was handled differently, but the outward result was supposedly the same. So expect orders to emerge from this research shortly, although they may not be publicized for a while as they will be strategic.

Celebi also made the point that the best benefit was shifting an iPhone 6 away from a congested 2.4 GHz channel to a wider 5.0 GHz channel. “One iPhone 6 with 1X1 11ac maintained an average PHY rate of 410 Mbps vs the theoretical maximum of 433 Mbps. And this was in a two story duplex with steel reinforced concrete floors and walls.”

Celebi said that this device had to be “steered” 25 times in a week away from a 2.4 GHz client and that all performance complaints from the consumer were eliminated once it only connected to a 2.4 GHz connection for 1% of the time.” That connection topped out at 52Mbps.

It’s easy to miss the significance of having a predictable WiFi performance. Celebi suggests that one operator he had spoken to had 1 million truck rolls a year and around 90% of them were a combination of “no fault found” and “looking up WiFi passwords.”

The kind of improved customer satisfaction that this might create would make a 50 Mbps telco broadband line perform every bit as well as a 300 Mbps cable broadband line, with a vastly reduced engineering team cost. So it would have the power to make a telco able to claim a similar performance to a cable company using DOCSIS 3.1, in terms of the bandwidth getting to each device. And it could prove it with this system. AirTies plans to show this off at the INTX: The Internet & Television Expo, starting today.

There is, of course one catch. In order to get Remote View to work, an operator either needs to buy all of its APs from AirTies, or it needs to get Celebi to license the software, which presumably could mean some of these capabilities being loaded onto existing installed equipment. Most AirTies installations use either Broadcom of Quantenna chips, with software loaded into them from AirTies, so it may now have to port its system to more chips in a hurry.

The company said that Remote View is currently in trials by operators across North America, Europe and Asia and is available as part of the new AirTies Serenity solution, which includes bundled packs of AirTies intelligent AP devices and software. It admits that several US tier 1 players are looking at this, which came as no surprise since it was showing data from New York.

Unlike traditional WiFi, which relies on a single AP from a gateway, AirTies uses multiple APs placed around the home to create an intelligent network that ensures consistent, high quality whole home Internet coverage. These smart APs can be connected wirelessly via AirTies’ WiFi mesh, or with a hybrid combination of wired connections – such as MoCA, Ethernet, or powerline.

Earlier this year AirTies was revealed as the WiFi glue in the Sky Q 4K set top box. This uses an alternative backhaul of HomePlug powerline inside the set top, so that if all the wireless connections are saturated, the separate APs can speak to one another and to the internet home gateway, over the power cables.  In the US is would make more sense to use coaxial cable with MoCA or on it, so AirTies has a version that works with MoCA too.

Earlier this year AirTies announced its first US deployment with regional cable and broadband provider Midco.  Other AirTies clients include Vodafone, Singtel, Swisscom and of course Sky.