Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

11 September 2019

AirTies updates in-home WiFi experience, but stops short of throttling

Ahead of the TV industry’s biggest event, the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), whole-home WiFi vendor AirTies rolled out a series of software updates to further cement its position in the cloud WiFi management sector where it has quickly become an industry staple.

AirTies has added what it calls a new WiFi Experience Index to its portfolio, marketed as a tool to provide operators with actionable insights into network conditions. The firm has also added a new prioritization feature, which it insists stays on the right side of the current throttling debate.

AirTies today is at something of a crossroads between a WiFi company and analytics company, arriving at the latter through the wealth of data collected doing the former. As our readers will know, the fundamental problem with pure analytics vendors is that they provide all the information about what’s good and bad in a network or in delivering video, without actually being able to do anything about it. AirTies is in a privileged and unique position where it can do both, and the introduction of WiFi Experience Index is another step in the right direction of solving the often painstaking WiFi experience.

“Based on years of refinements, this patented approach gives service providers a powerful and precise way to interpret the overall WiFi performance across the service provider’s entire installed base and for individual households. On a scale from 0-100, based on analysis of a variety of dynamic factors, it allows operators to understand the relative severity of certain issues, predict risks, and implement appropriate solutions,” it states.

WiFi Experience Index is just one of several shiny new cogs within the increasingly intelligent AirTies cloud. Other new capabilities added pre-IBC include data-driven channel planning, continuous WiFi speed tests with capacity forecasting, enhanced privacy and data masking, plus the potentially antagonistic cherry on the cake – prioritization for video and gaming.

Prioritizing video and gaming is a compelling and contentious update to the AirTies Cloud amid a period of rife video throttling and net neutrality controversy. It says with simple activation through the AirTies Vision companion app, devices including set tops and game consoles can be identified for preferential WiFi handling to ensure a consistent, high quality experience. This selective favoritism is achieved using AirTies’ hybrid cloud/edge architecture embedded in CPE and cloud-based analytics – a capability the company says is particularly useful for applications with low latency tolerance, such as UHD video and live multiplayer gaming.

The vendor says it has not crossed the line between prioritization and throttling, because its approach relates to device prioritization only on the consumer level (such as prioritizing traffic to a Roku device in the home), rather than a tool being manipulated by an ISP. “AirTies makes apps for consumers or field installers to use. Using a companion app from AirTies (which operators can white label as their own), users or installers can set that prioritization,” we were informed.

Prioritization is enabled via hybrid cloud/edge architecture which in turn builds on embedded intelligence in CPE with cloud-based analytics to maximize responsiveness, scalability and performance. This means with AirTies Cloud, there is no need to download any client-side software on subscribers’ personal devices.

The throttling issue is a topical one. Only a few weeks ago, evidence emerged showing AT&T, Sprint and Verizon all throttling over-the-top video services over their networks. Of course, this finding itself is no surprise, but one of the most intriguing findings from a year-long study conducted by the Northeastern University and University of Massachusetts Amherst, showed that T-Mobile, the ever-disruptive US mobile uncarrier, was identified as one of the most prevalent throttlers of Netflix.

So, while data shows that AT&T was found to throttle Netflix 70% of the time and YouTube 74% of the time, T-Mobile was a unique case in the manner in which it throttled video streaming. Research identified T-Mobile carrying out delayed throttling of Netflix, whereby the first few seconds of the transfer included rates up to 20Mbps, after which they dropped to 1.5Mbps.

In tandem with prioritization, AirTies’ new data-driven channel planning update provides dynamic optimization of WiFi through continuous assessment of network conditions. This combines historical cloud data with off-channel scanning from the real-time local environment in the home, including evaluation of far-end interference data from hidden sources (e.g. non-managed WiFi access points) to select the optimal channels – minimizing interference from neighbouring networks and other sources.

Furthermore, 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.

Sky UK – an AirTies customer – sent out an announcement last week promising a strong WiFi signal in every room in the house – or your money back. Sky’s WiFi Guarantee cites uninterrupted streaming of Netflix, Now TV and Sky Go and promises to “do everything” to optimize signals. The advanced mesh WiFi software from AirTies forms the basis of Sky UK’s Sky Q communications – solving the bad apple/sticky client problem which has hindered the performance of streaming video. The Sky Q product has an alternative powerline backhaul in case the WiFi 5 GHz self-backhaul becomes compromised.

This capacity forecasting feature is exactly that – an extraordinary feat in the progression of intelligent WiFi. But that doesn’t take away from the serious privacy connotations here, which is why AirTies has also dropped in an update to enhance privacy and data masking – including advanced encryption and anonymization of key data.