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21 November 2019

WiFi 6 rush continues with Com Hem, Swisscom launches

In what was a no-brainer deployment, Swisscom has launched into WiFi 6 in earnest with SoftAtHome – using the French supplier’s WiFi’ON and Connect’ON technology to set the bar for next-gen 802.11ax operator gateway and access point rollouts across Europe. Com Hem in Sweden wasn’t far behind, launching a Sagemcom-made DOCSIS 3.1 gateway supporting WiFi 6.

With SoftAtHome only last month unveiling a mammoth deal to port its software on the Qualcomm Networking Pro 1200 platform, specifically to lay the foundations for pairing WiFi 6 and 5G, we speculated that Qualcomm was powering Swisscom’s new Internet Box 3 gateway.

However, SoftAtHome confirmed to Faultline that a Broadcom chip is installed in the new home gateway, which is claiming to be the world’s first gateway capable of delivering 10 Gbps speeds over fiber as well as supporting copper and WiFi 6 all in one.

A long-term trustee of the SoftAtHome software stack in its home gateway, Swisscom has added SoftAtHome’s WiFi 6-supporting products to the new Internet Box 3. Band steering capabilities are, as with previous versions, part of the new hardware – algorithmically selecting the best WiFi channel and optimizing band usage by forcing WiFi devices to steer between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

Previous versions of the Swisscom home gateway running the SoftAtHome stack have used WiFi antennas from Ethertronics, which itself come with beam steering technology, so clearly the Ethertronics beam steering antenna are working in synergy with SoftAtHome’s Smart WiFi system with Intelligent Channel Selection and Instant Steering technologies. SoftAtHome was not at liberty to comment on the antenna part of the equation here.

In the same breath, Swisscom also rolled out its new Entertainment OS 4 set top this week with a heavy hand in voice technologies. Built on Synaptics’ far-field voice IPTV reference design, users can trigger voice-enabled services by saying “Hey Swisscom” – in what is to our knowledge the first instance of activating voice services by using the operator’s name directly. This custom wake word, which supports Swisscom’s proprietary assistant, is a neat feature of the quad-core VideoSmart multimedia processor with integrated far-field voice processing.

The Swiss operator’s WLAN-Box 2 WiFi repeaters are also getting the WiFi’ON treatment to extend WiFi coverage and sweep the home with intelligent WiFi.

Importantly, the WiFi’ON software allows the Swisscom WiFi 6 home gateway and repeaters to interoperate fully with WiFi 5. Failing to do so would be disastrous given that right now only a handful of devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S10 and iPhone 11, support the new WiFi 6 standard.

Another SoftAtHome selling point is allowing operators to keep hardware and software separate – enabling the likes of Swisscom to add next-generation connectivity options to existing products and therefore expand the lifespans of legacy hardware.

Connect’ON, meanwhile, is the cloud-based management piece of the puzzle – handling network topology as well as features like parental control. The technology supports a variety of network technologies, from traditional DS to high performance fiber or G.fast, or even XGS-PON or a hybrid DSL-5G approach in the future.

France’s Orange – another stakeholder in SoftAtHome along with Swisscom – has just launched the Orange IWU 200 compact 4K UHD set top. This is made by Sagemcom, running a Broadcom BCM72604 SoC, powered by SoftAtHome middleware and secured by Viaccess-Orca content protection. Presumably the Qualcomm Networking Pro 1200 platform is on the expensive side.

Faultline recently highlighted how operators cannot afford to have their heads in the sand when it comes to getting WiFi 6 to market, despite the minimal number of supporting devices out there today. Swisscom is known to be ahead of the curve, joining the likes of Com Hem to add WiFi 6 support to their home gateway and repeater hardware portfolio.

The new Com Hem gateway includes Sagemcom’s Swan software which includes analytics for big data, containerized Application Framework, line rate broadband speed test, WiFi Radio Resource Management with cloud-powered machine learning algorithms and more.

Another hot WiFi software vendor AirTies, meanwhile, is claiming “multiple” tier 1 operator deployment deals for its new WiFi 6 router and a duo of new extenders in dual-band and tri-band flavors. The new WiFi 6 compatible Air4960R is also powered by Broadcom, so the wait is on for the first public Qualcomm Networking Pro 1200 platform operator deployment.