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18 July 2019

WiFi Hospital part 2 – AirTies diagnostics used in Technicolor WiFi XL

Technicolor’s WiFi XL product launch from last week was a minefield of mysteries and the French vendor has since confirmed that there is much more than meets the eye – delicately hinting that some drastic WiFi industry shifts are fast approaching.

Straight off the bat, our suspicions that AirTies was somehow involved in the new whole home WiFi software launch were confirmed, as Technicolor’s VP of Product Management for Broadband Solutions, Geert Matthys, was eager to reiterate that WiFi XL is not a direct competitor to the WiFi Doctor business it sold to the Turkish WiFi specialist earlier this year.

“WiFi XL is not a replacement to the division we sold to AirTies, it is much more than that. We are not putting diagnostics next to WiFi XL but are using AirTies as a technical pre-integration partner for diagnostics. You need both,” commented Matthys, speaking to Faultline Online Reporter this week.

Back when Technicolor and AirTies inked an agreement, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t your run of the mill sale and would involve ongoing technical collaboration as well as sales channel partnerships.

But most significantly of all during our conversation, Technicolor implied that AirTies is deemphasizing its mesh software business as a result of industry-wide adoption of the WiFi Alliance’s EasyMesh standard.

Despite AirTies adding support for EasyMesh in May 2018, this was hard to swallow, so we were in contact with AirTies posthaste. “We are by no means giving up on our mesh. We are also supporting EasyMesh. However, we feel it will become operator grade in the next release and we will extend that release to cover the full functionality we currently have in our mesh version,” explained an AirTies representative.

But this isn’t the full picture. In time, most mesh components will work together as mesh suppliers endorse EasyMesh to translate mesh commands. And there is also a huge amount of IP in the current AirTies mesh implementation that EasyMesh simply says the controller implementation will perform. EasyMesh defines how to instruct a mesh AP to move a client between bands or APs. However, the real IP and intelligence is deciding when and how to move the client, under what circumstances and even knowing if that particular brand of chipset or device is prone to errors when being moved. If a smartphone for example is physically between the gateway and a mesh AP but closer to the AP, conventional wisdom would move the phone to the AP due to stronger signal, however, better performance would be obtained if it were to connect directly to the gateway.

On one hand, we can see the extension of EasyMesh within the AirTies mesh architecture fitting well with the AirTies strategy as the vendor goes about its transformation into more of a cloud-based diagnostics business.

“We cannot talk too much about the AirTies roadmap, but what we can say is that EasyMesh will undoubtedly be the foundation going forward,” said Matthys. He spoke about the primary benefit of EasyMesh being the removal of vendor lock-in, which pertains to a quote in last week’s press release claiming that the lack of a systematic approach to data has delayed fundamental developments in the WiFi space.

Vendors have jumped to adopt EasyMesh but even the WiFi Alliance itself has admitted that technically speaking the standard has had some catching up to do in terms of matching the performance of the mesh architecture from AirTies, although as we know the crux of EasyMesh is interoperability not performance.

As a quick reminder, WiFi XL says it solves crucial pain points in the connected home through the integration of EasyMesh software – guaranteeing QoS over time via advanced diagnostics and what it calls a “curing solution”. Matthys and his colleague Jerome Martin, Head of Product and Strategic Marketing, were apologetic for the medical marketing terminology which caused confusion about the differences between WiFi XL and WiFi Doctor.

Another important factor is Technicolor’s significant footprint of WiFi 6 gateways and extenders in the field, both dual-band and tri-band, and emphasis on EasyMesh pushes a standardized interface towards the gateway which benefits everyone. Technicolor also open sourced its EasyMesh components which have already been adopted by a few undisclosed operators, noted Matthys.

“It’s the band-aid, not the cure,” repeated Martin, explaining that WiFi XL is about providing seamless connectivity through boosting aggregate throughput and improved mechanisms for handling multiple users through WiFi 6, citing that the average household will have 15 or more devices by 2022.

Our response was that as a hypothetical prospective customer, why would we choose a band-aid when we could have a doctor? There was hushed agreement from a marketing standpoint followed by a reminder that the WiFi XL band-aid is just one component towards nursing the wounds of the wider WiFi connectivity problem.

WiFi XL’s first trial home is due to go live in Atlanta next month followed by some additional homes Europe and Technicolor promised to provide us with results from these trials at IBC in September.