Ethertronics sneaks in Swisscom WiFi win as takeover agreed

Shortly after announcing a takeover by electronics manufacturer AVX for $142 million, antenna systems developer Ethertronics delivered a big product win at Swisscom. Ethertronics spans multiple industries and given the importance that next-generation WiFi is playing in areas such as defense and emerging IoT applications, the acquisition looks a worthwhile one going forward, while the battle for in-home WiFi grows ever more valuable.

Swisscom has deployed Ethertronics’ high-performance WiFi antenna in its new WLAN-Box, to meet demands for delivering video and smart home applications. Swisscom says its designers selected Ethertronics to maximize the radio link performance in the WLAN-Box, which acts as a 3 in 1 WiFi device – serving as an access point (AP), a repeater and a video bridge.

Faultline Online Reporter had hoped to receive an explanation on how the new Ethertronics WiFi antenna at Swisscom works with the existing WiFi products from SoftAtHome, also used by the Swiss operator, but the veteran company’s impending takeover interfered with this. French WiFi specialist SoftAtHome was also unfortunately unavailable for comment, but we know that beam steering technology developed by Ethertronics is part and parcel of its active antenna system, so is likely working in synergy with SoftAtHome’s Smart WiFi system, which uses what it calls Intelligent Channel Selection and Instant Steering technologies.

The active antenna system from Ethertronics sits in either the client end of WiFi to stimulate the return path or in an AP – working with any chip architecture to boost performance by between 15% and 45%. It combines proprietary algorithms with both a CPU and RF part, which generates four different radiation patterns.

SoftAtHome says its own steering algorithms adapt to user device behavior to constantly optimize performance – prioritizing time-critical traffic such as multicast IPTV. It then applies AI-based analytics hosted in the cloud to help teams locate and fix network issues before they occur. Ethertronics has similar predictive algorithms, so that once the system has mapped out the best path for a particular signal, it becomes more efficient at optimizing the most effective radiation pattern.

Back in late 2015, Ethertronics said its active antenna system was on trial at a number of tier 1 US video and cellular operators, but no word ever came of these reaching deployment. Ethertronics employs 700 people and posted 2017 revenue of $90 million.

Swisscom has asserted itself as one of Europe’s leading operators in WiFi, taking the view that pushing consumers to buy multiple retail devices is a drawback and is instead investing in integrating intelligent vendor systems into its gateway devices. This is why Swisscom has moved away from a previous system it sold, supplied by AirTies, which has too stepped back from the retail sector.

The idea is that a subscriber runs the software on their existing Swisscom set top and installs one extra WLAN-Box, costing just $79.60, with the WiFi software, meaning, in theory, there is no need to buy additional repeaters or APs as the one in the set top acts as a central Smart WiFi hub. Of course, there is no harm in fitting a larger home with further APs to further improve connectivity, and the SoftAtHome-powered Swisscom system can support this using a star topology – by steering WiFi clients to the AP deemed best for delivery performance.

Head of Gateways, Phones, and other Devices at Swisscom, Marcel Burgherr, said at the time, “The new WLAN-Box AP is a cornerstone of our home network strategy to provide the best in class WLAN experience through every corner of our customers’ homes. With the WLAN-Box and the incorporated advanced antenna solutions from Ethertronics, we solve customer home networking issues and deliver advanced broadband and digital TV services wirelessly with highest performance to our customers.”

In other SoftAtHome news, the company renewed its agreement with Broadcom at CES for 10Gbps Passive Optical Network (PON) and 802.11ax WiFi technologies, on BCM68580 and BCM43684 chipsets, which includes Broadcom’s new Max WiFi technology. This allows SoftAtHome’s ConnectAtHome software to run on the host CPU, enabling multi-gigabit WiFi speeds with zero host CPU consumption. It claims 10 Gbps PON delivers a 10-fold improvement and 802.11ax delivers a 4-fold increase in WiFi throughput compared to current 11ac technology.

Also getting on the CES WiFi radar is Qorvo, preparing to launch a new suite of mesh networking products, including WiFi front end modules claiming to help consumer devices make the most of the frequency band, whereas sub-par rival systems apparently have trouble accessing the full spectrum. Qorvo says it has secured multiple design wins with top equipment providers for its WiFi mesh products, which are currently in production.

Meanwhile, Plume tied up a pre-integration deal for its Adaptive WiFi cloud control and management capabilities into a set of Mediatek platforms, to offer OEMs a premium turn-key WiFi system to ISP customers using Mediatek SoCs.

Mesh networking technologies became the topic of speculation towards the end of 2017, as competitors launched similar WiFi software products without using mesh architectures, while claiming that mesh actually cuts bandwidth in half. That leaves the ball in the court of Turkish mesh WiFi expert AirTies, in what we expect to be an even busier year in WiFi.