Building on a partnership established last year, CableLabs and the WiFi Alliance have developed a standard way to collect and analyze data on WiFi networks in order to predict and pre-empt problems more automatically.
The resulting specifications are called WiFi Certified Data Elements, and they aim to provide service providers with deeper visibility into their wireless networks’ performance, which in turn could reduce the need for customers to report issues, with resulting implications for cost and subscriber satisfaction.
CableLabs estimates that cable operators waste more than $1bn a year on troubleshooting residential WiFi problems, and that about two-thirds of customer complaints are WiFi-related.
Proprietary WiFi proactive network maintenance (PNM) tools are already available, but CableLabs said there was no global standard for how “key actionalable data” for WiFi is collected in home and small business environments.
The new specs aim to be as efficient as possible, only collecting the data that is necessary based on a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) which apply to nearly all WLANs and are responsible for nearly all WiFi performance issues.
Josh Redmore, lead architect for wireless R&D at CableLabs (which is the R&D arm of the US cable industry), explained in a blog post: “It supports scheduled and asynchronous data transmission that gives operators unprecedented visibility into customer WiFi network performance without adversely affecting the quality of the connection.”
For instance, he said, if a WiFi channel in an apartment building becomes congested, the system could proactively and automatically recommend a better channel before a slowdown occurs.
The code for WiFi Certified Data Elements has been released to the open source community, and the Alliance will offer a certification program. The operators will need to set up servers to collect and analyze the incoming data.
The new initiative is not CableLabs’ first foray into WiFi, as full-home wireless networks become a crucial element in the services offered by its cableco members. In May, it announced another open source project, Dual Channel WiFi, a technology which allocates dedicated channels for specific applications or traffic types that require high speeds or low latency, such as online gaming.
One WiFi vendor, Assia, was loud in support of the WiFi Certified Data Elements program.
“We believe that this initiative will benefit vendors, service providers, and consumers immensely. For the first time vendors and service providers will be able to build standardized data models that solve a vast range of home WiFi issues across a range of delivery platforms. The lack of a systematic approach to data has delayed innovation in this space for years. Now the wait is over, and we will see a new ecosystem emerge,” commented Assia CSO Tuncay Cil.
He added: “Streamlining the use of data across platforms will be a big-time boost to the consumer’s quality of experience. We also have no doubt that getting WiFi quality under control means the introduction of new services faster than ever before.”