Qualcomm claims first video resilient mesh for WiFi – at last

Qualcomm this week at the Broadband World Forum formally introduced its mesh architecture for WiFi, suggesting it was the first to protect video and ensure it arrives on time. We’re sure that’s not right, but it could end up as the major alternative to those services which have already been doing this for years.

We first wrote not one, but two stories about WiFi that segments video and treats it differently, about 5 years ago, with both Turkish AirTies Wireless Networks and Israel’s Celeno claiming their WiFi software helped HD and 4K video get around the house. They have made constant improvements in their software systems which do this.

Since then Quantenna and Broadcom have announced they have licensed the proprietary mesh architecture of Airties, and now Qualcomm feels compelled to come out with its own mesh product. Qualcomm may well have sufficient patents to defend against what may otherwise be seen as a patent infringement, given that its cellular operation has been working with different forms of mesh in the past. But we are not far from the first mesh wars, when someone will sue for patent infringement.

Qualcomm Technologies said it is working with a spate of manufacturers to accelerate WiFi mesh network deployments at ISPs including Acelink, Alpha Networks, Askey, Hitron, Sercomm, Technicolor and WNC which will produce systems based on the Qualcomm Mesh Networking Platform by 2018.

“Qualcomm Technologies has been a driving force behind the Mesh Networking movement, and is now raising the bar by addressing the unique challenges of broadband carriers and their customers, including distributing video over mesh networks and enabling virtually seamless content across several screens, in addition to the televisions in the home,” said Irvind Ghai, vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies.

The key issue here is that Comcast is planning to introduce designs from another Qualcomm partner, Plume Design, in its home networking over the coming months. The two have built reference platforms for Mesh networking in the home, and Comcast plans to base its multi-AP Xfinity service around Plume. Its cloud-based control and management solution is fed data by Qualcomm’s Mesh Networking platform.

“A reliable, managed, and optimized whole-home Wi-Fi network is the only solution to the ‘last-meter problem’ faced by the carriers,” said Fahri Diner, chief executive officer, co-founder, Plume. “Our relationship with Qualcomm Technologies is accelerating the deployment of carrier grade home Wi-Fi at carrier scale.”

Qualcomm has not really explained its mesh in detail to us yet, although we have asked. Right now there is a philosophical argument running about whether or not a mesh is the most efficient way to carry traffic around a home, or whether an extender can do a better job. But either way the ability to carry messages from each Access Point in a multi-AP home, back to the node which decides which channels to use, is the key ingredient. The new AX protocol is hard-wiring some management principles into a multi-AP network, for instance communicating the pre-booking of resources for one or other activity, and conveying it across the network.

Comcast’s involvement with Plume has been widely reported, and it has taken a shareholding in the company. People close to the deal suggest that the deal includes a provision for taking Plume over to become a Comcast subsidiary, triggered by Comcast after a period and based on sales to other networks at that point. Obtaining these terms might be critical for Comcast having made the decision to opt for a mesh solution which had not already been proven at another operator, and which was ostensibly designed as a retail product. The idea behind Plume is that you are supposed to simply buy more Plume APs and stick them in any room where you want better WiFi.

As home networks continue to become crowded with multiple devices streaming video and other high-bandwidth activities throughout the house, carriers will be challenged to manage network capacity, reduce latency, reduce buffering and cut out dropped packets.

Qualcomm says these problems are worse in a mesh network and that it had to build a special Video-Over-Mesh feature, which now deliver less than 40ms of latency and near lossless video delivery. We’re not sure 40ms is good enough to be honest – 20ms would be a minimum we would expect for something where latency is toxic, like gaming.

The new Video-Over-Mesh features can be used across Qualcomm Technologies’ Wave-2 801.11ac portfolio, which includes the QCA998x and IPQ806x for broadband gateways, the QCA6174 and QCA998x for set-top boxes and extenders, and the IPQ401x for mesh network systems. Which means that Qualcomm has all bases covered for different types of operators. But there is no question that Qualcomm is late to the party and unless Comcast makes a go of the Plume products, it will likely only ship to retail providers, rather than those provisioned by operators and we suspect that inn a multi-AP world, retail products only have a brief future.