Plume, the US supplier of mesh WiFi technology made famous by Comcast, has secured a major contract upgrade at Liberty Global in Europe. Plume’s promotion is a poignant reminder of where the cable giant’s priorities lie, at a time when Liberty is turning its back on traditional TV and placing more emphasis on the broadband business to facilitate new TV.
Plume’s whole home mesh WiFi system is already installed on virtually all Virgin Media home gateways in the UK and will now be expanded to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland. These territories will receive Plume’s Adaptive WiFi optimization software and WiFi Pods which serve as mesh boosters, while consumers can access the free Connect App for in-home WiFi management and parental controls.
Together, these five territories represent 10.9 million internet subscribers, with the largest footprint in the UK with 5.3 million as of Q3 2019, followed by the Dutch joint venture VodafoneZiggo with 3.35 million customers on internet services.
So, for Plume, that’s a gain of 5.6 million subscribers in one hit. On last count, as of October 2019, Plume was present in 10 million homes and had 300 million devices connected to its cloud platform. Impressive for a company less than six years old.
It leaves just two countries without Plume technology within Liberty’s European footprint – Belgium and Slovakia – representing 1.66 million and 140,000 internet subscribers, respectively, as of Q3.
As well as signifying a substantial multiplication of demand for Plume Pods, it brings the Adaptive WiFi system to millions more gateways. Adaptive WiFi is powered by OpenSync and already used by Comcast and Bell Canada. OpenSync is Plume’s open source virtualized middle layer geared towards getting operators to ditch legacy management systems based on the Broadband Forum’s TR069 technical specification.
Although OpenSync software has been downloaded millions of times, open source dominance is not the same as someone paying to install your system – but it is still a raging endorsement and a likely indicator of success.
Plume describes OpenSync as the first multi-industry, open service curation, delivery, management and support framework, but this is really just half the story. What is called OpenSync Target Layer goes up directly against the EasyMesh multi-AP standard from the WiFi Alliance. Since the industry has adopted EasyMesh at large scale, Target Layer was of limited future use to Plume, so it decided to simply give it away.
Yet Plume today is much more than a provider of attractive WiFi extenders and intelligent cloud-based management capabilities, as the company has developed a monetization layer for operators. It wants to enable service providers to launch new services and applications at a faster rate and on a massive scale, implying that Liberty Global has something bigger in the pipeline.
Not only is Plume something of a WiFi management pioneer, but the company has also been applauded for transforming the CPE market which was littered with horrible designs before Plume Pods arrived at Comcast and changed that.
Liberty Global shifted some 10 million of its Connect Box WiFi devices back in July 2018, at the time claiming it was about two-thirds of the way through replacing its 15 million broadband connections with DOCSIS 3.0 routers. The Connect Box, we understand, is dual sourced by Arris (now CommScope) and Compal, running the classic Intel Puma 6 DOCSIS chipset – mature and by now cheap – with MaxLinear tuner chips with full band capture.
In addition, Israeli-based Celeno has kept up with the move towards both cloud-managed WiFi software and 4×4 beamforming MIMO WiFi chips, and was responsible for putting them in the Liberty Global Horizon set top, as well as in this device.
Comcast’s WiFi strategy meanwhile is built around Quantenna 8×8 MIMO chipsets in newer Xfinity DOCSIS 3.1 gateways, while its xFi pods (from Plume) run Qualcomm 2×2 WiFi chips and include a download of Plume software to the home gateway to manage other nodes using the xFi advanced gateway software.
Elsewhere in Plume’s world, the vendor announced its arrival into the D2C business 11 months ago via the launch of its cloud-based Adaptive WiFi service in the UK, its first market outside the US, alongside its smart home platforms HomePass and AI Security. Plume will offer direct subscriptions as well as offering products through ISPs. For 1 or 2 bedroom homes, the full service costs £99 ($128) a month, rising to £199 ($258) for 3 or 4 bedroom homes.