Technicolor nurses wounds with WiFi Doctor sale to AirTies

Following the failure to find a suitable buyer for its Connected Home division a few months back, Technicolor has begun dismantling the struggling sector brick by brick – starting with the sale of its Wireless Doctor business to AirTies. Over the coming months, the Turkish vendor will pre-integrate the software into its Remote Manager product, meaning its intelligent WiFi tentacles will reach into an installed base of millions of gateways and – significantly – will no longer be exclusive to Broadcom and Quantenna chipsets.

Through the deal, AirTies has somehow masterminded a partnership with Technicolor to jointly offer smart WiFi to service providers. Quite simply, the bottom line is that any new or legacy Technicolor gateway which is mesh-capable and can support smart WiFi will become an AirTies stronghold – and the French firm is second only to Arris in terms of global installed base (since buying the Cisco set top division). We wonder what Plume is plotting right now.

Our first thought here at Faultline Online Reporter was that AirTies had acquired the assets of Technicolor’s wireless arm, previously called WiFi Doctor and Conductor, for an absolute steal given how Technicolor recently slashed its full year 2018 EBITDA outlook by some €20 million. However, AirTies CEO Philippe Alcaras admitted this was not the case on the AirTies scale of things, although the undisclosed price could be considered low on the Technicolor scale. Our guess is somewhere in the region of $8 million to $10 million – a bargain price if anywhere near accurate.

With Wireless Doctor, AirTies is inheriting a pure cloud-based software business with intellectual property and a team of 30 people. “You have no idea how hard it is to find world-class WiFi people,” said a relieved-sounding Alcaras, breathing a sigh of relief after almost a year of trying to get a deal over the line. Apparently, while Technicolor’s Connected Home arm as a whole has been visibly in trouble, primarily the set top business, the wireless side has actually been growing healthily, according to Alcaras, making it a peculiar decision for Technicolor to sell up, although Alcaras was not at liberty to talk on behalf of Technicolor.

Technicolor’s Wireless Doctor and AirTies’ Remote Manager products initially look rather similar but Alcaras explained that Wireless Doctor is much more in the area of smart predictions and diagnostics, while AirTies is more into looking at solutions. The two are therefore complementary and although specifics are slim on the ground, we have been promised an introduction to the “extremely experienced” Wireless Doctor team joining AirTies at Mobile World Congress next month.

In a nut shell, what attracted AirTies to Wireless Doctor is a technique for quantifying the user experience which it says will do wonders for in-home WiFi and therefore for the gigabit broadband economy. It features a suite of cloud-based performance management software, embedded decision logic, and apps used by service providers to support field technicians, network engineers, customer care agents, marketing personnel and data analysts to improve the in-home WiFi experience.

We had hoped to dive into a customer case study to get a comprehensive picture of where Wireless Doctor fits into a multi-AP world and what it brings to the table in terms of AirTies furthering its lead. Unfortunately, customer specifics aren’t being discussed yet, but the scale and spread of Technicolor’s tier 1 gateway deployment footprint is vast – namely Comcast, Canada’s Rogers Communications, Sweden’s Com Hem and Telia, and Australia’s Telstra, to name a few. We presume most of Technicolor’s tier 1 operator customers either already have hardware supporting mesh or will soon upgrade to a system that can, given the proliferation of smart WiFi.

“We don’t think many people expected this deal,” said Alcaras. This was certainly true of us, but since digesting the news we can appreciate how the deal fits the mold of AirTies’ recent adaptation – from perfecting a mesh architecture to emerging as a frontrunner in actively fixing problematic WiFi networks. Remote Manager burst onto the scene in October 2017, built on its existing Remote View technology, which digs deeper into a home network with multiple APs.

This works in a number of ways, either allowing consumers to self-manage WiFi usage patterns via an app which can then be fixed remotely by a customer care department when a network is down; or it can feed policy tools like AI and machine learning systems with data, so these can proactively monitor and adjust the network in real time.

The software intelligently directs consumers’ devices to the best available channel and band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), based on real-time home network conditions to improve performance. It also enables gateways to serve as the WiFi mesh controller, lowering equipment investments for operators by reducing the number of extenders required.

“AirTies’ Remote Manager and Wireless Doctor, individually and collectively, actively manage millions of homes around the globe today,” states the press release, although we could not prize a more precise figure from Alcaras.

AirTies made a major claim before New Year, saying it had a tier 1 MSO lined up for an RDK platform deployment in early 2019 and we were keen to know how the acquisition would affect this deal. “We are on track for a Q1 launch,” was all Alcaras was able to reveal for now of what will certainly be another milestone moment. That is because AirTies’ decision to port its WiFi mesh software onto the RDK platform strengthens AirTies’ status as the leading hardware-independent provider of WiFi mesh technology, while reaffirming RDK’s entrenched position among tier 1 cable TV operators.

President and GM of Technicolor’s Connected Home division Luis Martinez-Amago said, “As we sought out strategic alternatives for our Wireless Doctor software business and the talented team behind it, we could not have found a better home than with AirTies. The smart WiFi market is poised for exponential growth as the connected home environment becomes more complex and congested. The resulting new business agreement between AirTies and Technicolor will provide service providers with ‘ready-to-go’ solutions that integrate the best products from two leading players in this space. This important new addition to our expanding Hero partnership program reflects Technicolor’s ongoing mission to collaborate and provide the services and devices that bring seamless entertainment experiences to homes everywhere.”

We said a few issues back that since AirTies countered the Plume open source attack via the Broadcom deal, it would make sense for AirTies to cut similar deals as soon as possible with rival chip makers – and this week’s acquisition has set the stage for just that. Technicolor is known to be a big fan of Broadcom.

The sale begs the question now of what happens to the rest of Technicolor’s Connected Home unit, and we can now see that selling it piece by piece is the company’s solution to a business now a malignant burden on its books – which investors are desperate to severe.