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10 October 2019

AirTies, SoftAtHome gear up for WiFi 6 avalanche

Broadband World Forum next week will, with any luck, be wall-to-wall with WiFi 6 products – marking the most significant leap in WiFi protocols since the technology’s inception 22 years ago. Operators and vendors alike cannot afford to dillydally when it comes to getting WiFi 6 to market, despite the minimal number of supporting devices currently in the field.

First out of the gate was a familiar name with AirTies set to unveil a suite of new WiFi 6 devices powered by the secret sauce AirTies Smart WiFi software and AirTies Cloud infrastructure – already claiming multiple tier 1 operator deployment deals. The Turkish mesh specialist is introducing two WiFi 6 extenders in dual-band and tri-band flavors, along with a WiFi 6 router to help operators proactively manage WiFi 6 devices alongside legacy devices in the home.

Running on Broadcom silicon, the Air4960R mesh router is designed to support operators planning to retain their existing cable modems or fiber terminations within the home – reducing the hardware requirement from three devices to two by integrating the router software into the WiFi 6 mesh extender.

The new tri-band Air4970 WiFi extender works with WiFi 6 tri-band gateways to provide a dedicated backhaul channel, with integrated 2×2 dual-band concurrent at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, plus 5 GHz dedicated backhaul with 3×3 WiFi 6.

But while hardware will take the spotlight at the BBWF’s new Amsterdam home, the real clever stuff happens in the AirTies Cloud. This management platform opens up service providers to a world of analysis and insights, from where they can handle remote diagnostics and recommendations. AirTies’ recently launched WiFi Experience Index is included, offered as an additional tool geared towards that increasingly common buzz-term “actionable insights”. AirTies is in a unique position where it can provide insights into WiFi network issues while giving operators the means to act upon them before bubbling up into something more serious.

WiFi Experience Index is just one of several shiny new cogs within the increasingly intelligent AirTies Cloud – recently rolling out new features including data-driven channel planning, continuous WiFi speed tests with capacity forecasting, enhanced privacy and data masking, plus prioritization capabilities for streaming video and gaming. This final feature is, as our pre-IBC coverage pointed out, a compelling and contentious update amid a period of rife video throttling and net neutrality controversy.

These new features may well become critical for WiFi 6 as service providers begin early equipment tests as the 802.11ax standard celebrates the start of its certification process. As such, AirTies’ continuous WiFi speed tests and capacity forecasting allows for accurate measurements of WiFi link speeds, without having to run intrusive speed tests or load speed test software on CPEs and user devices. These measurements can be used for reporting and anticipating impact of new service deployments, for example if a customer subscribes to a new 4K video service, or a faster broadband plan, the system can predict the demands this will make on the home network, enabling operators to take suitable measures in advance, such as including additional WiFi extenders as part of an upgrade.

Still though, the industry insists on a tradeoff between WiFi and cellular. WiFi 6 promises many of the capabilities touted for 5G, such as lower latency and higher data rates. But seeing these technologies as competitors is an old-fashioned view in a world where both can live in shared spectrum and so the divisions are blurring.

WiFi is likely to continue to dominate the home and carpeted office markets, but in industrial, critical, highly mobile and wide area environments, it still has disadvantages compared to cellular. In most scenarios, enterprises would ideally have access to both radio networks, preferably managed from a common core so that there is seamless interaction between the two.

French vendor SoftAtHome has also been active in pre-BBWF PR, getting ready to showcase its WiFi’ON and Eyes’ON products with emphasis on gaming use cases where optimized latency is growing in importance.

SoftAtHome will also be demoing an Application Store downloading specific applications in a home gateway container on-demand, including traffic identification which it says is an instrumental feature in building advanced operator services such as parental control, QoS enforcement or security. Voice functionality has recently been added to the SoftAtHome gateway experience.

Arris and Technicolor are two more vendors of note likely to be active at BBWF, with the latter claiming a significant footprint of WiFi 6 gateways and extenders in the field even before the standard started certification, while CommScope’s Arris heavily emphasized its WiFi 6 approach to Faultline at IBC.

WiFi 6 certification kicked off at IBC with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 smartphone racing to become the first WiFi 6 certified device, although this isn’t the only device to support 802.11ax technology. The WiFi Alliance is holding out that the WiFi 6 certification program will be a faster process than its predecessors. Apple swiftly followed with its latest iPhone 11, with receiving assistance with WiFi network optimization from Cisco.

Last week, the Wireless Broadband Alliance published survey results showing that 90% of those in the industry are already planning to deploy WiFi 6 equipment, based on responses from 200 telcos, vendors and enterprises. Some 66% of these have penciled in deployment dates before 2020.