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17 January 2017

CES 2017: WiFi offerings jostle for operator and consumer attention

The recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was awash with WiFi players bustling for attention. Turkish WiFi mesh specialist AirTies boasted new operator trials, Comcast announced the deployment of new WiFi software, Linksys unveiled a tri-band router package, and Chinese manufacturer TP-Link entered the market with a double product launch.

This year will be one of significant growth for carrier-controlled WiFi, as more and more operators begin to adopt the array of systems now available, particularly the various mesh networking technologies that have emerged in the past couple of years; and as consumer awareness is heightened still further by a new generation of retail offerings, such as Google’s recently launched WiFi Home Gateway.

Wireless Watch’s sister service, Faultline Online Reporter, met with AirTies for a catch-up at CES. It has undergone a transformation over the past year, stopping its retail operations to focus on its operator customer base.

AirTies boasts more than 50 active trials, with a mix of operators across Europe and the US, which are  testing its powerline-backhauled mesh technology, as the company hopes to bulk up a customer base that most recently added another major name in Frontier Communications.

AirTies said Frontier’s legacy gateways were simply too old to support the mesh networking technologies, which is why the US telco bundled it into the Frontier Secure broadband offering, rather than opting for the full mesh capabilities.

Operators such as Frontier are reselling a $144 double mesh system from AirTies which works on multiple layers of WiFi, most suited for better streaming of HD video and gaming in a 2,000 square-foot home (1,000 square foot per AP).

Mesh retail offerings such as Google WiFi, on the other hand, are essentially ‘me too’ products, but Google’s system sets a bar for how WiFi will be increasingly controlled by the smartphone – a precedent for the smart home market within the IoT ecosystem.

Comcast made a pledge last week, stating that software allowing both the consumer and help desk to control how WiFi is operating in the home, will roll out to 15m Xfinity users by the end of 2017.

Commenting on the news, AirTies told us that Comcast is currently looking at many possible WiFi technologies, and we are confident that Comcast will move to a multiple access point (AP) architecture in the near future, but isn’t quite there yet.

TP-Link unveiled two Deco M5 Routers in Las Vegas, one with Powerline and one without. The Deco M5 Router with Powerline uses the home’s existing electrical wiring, but the Chinese firm has not revealed which standard this is using – whether it is HomePlug Alliance or its rival HomeGrid Forum (backers of G.hn).

TP-Link is also the company behind Google’s older OnHub product, along with ASUS, one which will still be compatible with the new Google WiFi mesh system. This offers 2×2 MIMO and no Multi User-MIMO features, so it looks like it will not be able to replicate the intelligent functions offered by the likes of AirTies, such as preserving your streaming video when you get a sticky client or bad apple.

Quantenna has had a busy week, and the US firm has spoken about getting to the upcoming 802.11ax WiFi standard ahead of the crowd, as well as about 8×8 MU-MIMO. Last week, it presented a new 802.11ax dual band, dual concurrent product, the QSR5G-AX.

Quantenna also just launched SONiQ, a framework for both mesh and star repeater connections. With zero-touch configuration client hand-offs between routers, and client steering between 2.4 GHz or 5GHz – so this is around three years behind the very similar solutions from AirTies and Arris.

Linksys wasn’t about to be left out of the CES WiFi announcements, as it launched a multi-router system called Velop – positioning itself alongside similar systems from Eero, Netgear, Luma and Plume.

Velop is a tri-band router using mesh networking technology to sweep the home with speeds of up to 2.2 Gbps. Although at $499 for the triple-device package, Velop is at the top end of the market, compared to the $299 triple bundle from Google WiFi.