When AirTies landed its first tier 1 deal at UK operator Sky back in early 2016, a contract of this scale conjured up two questions – would it spur on a vendor WiFi war to splinter the market, or would the Turkish WiFi expert sweep up to become the industry’s de facto mesh technology supplier? Enter the world’s largest service provider AT&T into the fray in January 2018 and the latter seemed a certainty; add German giant Deutsche Telekom to the list this week and we have the answer.
As of this week, Deutsche Telekom has started selling two AirTies mesh WiFi extenders as part of the 4920 Starter Kit to its subscriber base for €200, able to connect up to six extenders per mesh network within a home.
The product page is in German language only, so we assume Deutsche Telekom is initially only making the 4920 Starter Kit available to German subscribers. This route to market makes calculating potential deployment figures a tough ask, but even reaching a small number of Deutsche Telekom’s 13.1 million broadband subscribers and 3.1 million Entertain TV customers is a big deal.
AirTies CEO Philippe Alcaras told us that previous deployments have reached between 15% and 20% of subscribers within the 18 months to 2 years’ time frame, citing Singtel as one example. This was a higher answer than expected and a similar feat at Deutsche Telekom and AT&T would be impressive. “Around 53% of all in-home WiFi users have coverage issues, so naturally over 50% is our deployment target, but we know this is not realistic,” said Alcaras, speaking to Faultline Online Reporter this week.
We expect Deutsche Telekom will eventually expand the deployment to its other European territories, where it has an additional 5.5 million pay TV subscribers and even more broadband subs, across 9 countries.
However, the announcement mentions nothing about using powerline as a spare backhaul option for WiFi, something AirTies has spoken to Faultline Online Reporter about for years, and we know that the power lines inside homes are not homogenous around Europe and some Central and Eastern European countries would offer more issues than Germany and the UK, either because the electrical cable is substandard or because the walls are thin and don’t stop WiFi. So, the expansion effort all depends on Deutsche Telekom committing to network infrastructure upgrades.
The extenders come equipped with the renowned AirTies mesh software, which is known to approach the theoretical maximum speeds for WiFi, using automatic band and channel selection for 2.4GHz and 5GHz and can also be used as a WiFi bridge between a router and a media receiver. The deployment is by no means integral to video, by which we mean the mesh software is not deployed directly in Deutsche Telekom’s set tops, but the WiFi bridge can serve as a video bridge as mentioned, meaning that hooking up a home with the maximum six extenders should create a rather smooth video delivery experience around even a large household. To this end, the AirTies kit is capable of supporting Entertain TV at UHD quality.
The next question for AirTies is where will it find future growth, now that some of the world’s biggest operators are customers? Assuming AirTies is not for sale, a big part of business going forward will be its Remote View software, although this has not been mentioned in the Deutsche Telekom or AT&T deployments. Remote View is all about achieving truck roll savings by monitoring in-home WiFi patterns and bandwidth usage.
There are two contrasting mind frames when approaching this market – the type in favor of cloud managed WiFi to support an operator’s help desk team, and the type which wants the home to be independent. Alcaras said AirTies wants to empower the home, using a global cloud system to enable local networks to make decisions and solve connectivity problems using increasingly intelligent software.
Alcaras confessed this is a more expensive direction in terms of AirTies’ own R&D, but with more and more customers looking to save millions of dollars in call center and truck roll costs, that return on investment will pay off as demand inevitably increases among operators. Alcaras told us on average 30% of an operator’s complaint calls are WiFi related.
There is also scope for introducing artificial intelligence into WiFi management software products such as Remote View, yet AI could frustrate a subscriber further, prompting them to carry out manual reboots, for example. Therefore, it makes more sense to apply artificial intelligence software into the local network rather than serving as an assistant of sorts. Alcaras noted that it takes years of grueling tests before an operator will come around to this way of thinking, experimenting in different ways of using data analytics to attack the problem of diagnosing and solving WiFi problems.
Some future influence over where AirTies will head lies in the hands of standards groups, mainly the WiFi Alliance, which is beavering away to meet demand for higher level mesh standards and this itself raises uncertainties in the market about the interoperability between rival WiFi systems. The introduction of a multi-AP standard would enable AirTies to focus further on the smarter WiFi stuff like AI and how and when packets are sent, according to Alcaras, who spoke positively about an interoperable future, despite having initial reservations.
Our own conclusion is any company involved in WiFi must interoperate with AirTies, or face eliminating an enormous slice of the market. Alcaras is more modest, saying there is a long way to go and others are entering the market to heighten competition, namely Comcast’s Plume and other big players beginning to position software around the gateway. “Leaders need competition otherwise there is no market,” said Alcaras.
Technical specifications for the 4920 Starter Kit include data rate up to 1.3Gbps, encryption standard WPA/WPA2, and WLAN network 3×3 5GHz band 802.11ac and 2×2 802.11n 2.4GHz antennas.
Deutsche Telekom also uses WiFi management software from Spanish network Fon to give a second SSID to homespots and hotspots and to optimize and troubleshoot WiFi networks. The operator has 11,000 hotspots in Germany and 50,000 worldwide, at airports, hotels, trade fairs and conference centers, plus it can turn a home gateway into a hotspot by adding a second SSID, although when we last heard about this Deutsche Telekom was only allowing homespots through an opt-in process, rather than an opt-out catchall process.