When we think of intelligent WiFi, the names AirTies, SoftAtHome and Plume are among the first to spring to mind offering infinitely impressive yet imperfect systems. The rise of smart software like mesh WiFi combined with inadequate standards has in turn created new problems in the network, a gap in the market identified by a start-up called Lifemote which says the WiFi world has been crying out for a hardware-agnostic cloud-based analytics platform.
Lifemote has developed a WiFi analytics arsenal designed to be offered not only directly to ISPs but to the very CPE firms mentioned in this opening gambit.
“AirTies and Plume replace the technology stack, while we re-use existing mechanisms. For example, we can take a Broadcom-based gateway to analyze band steering parameters, from where we can change software parameters globally and then in individual homes,” Lifemote co-founder and CEO, Eren Soyak, explained to Faultline this week.
Immediately, we ran into an issue. AirTies and Plume would be horrified today to be described simply as CPE vendors and we voiced as much to Soyak, who knows a thing or two from his 4 years working in the AirTies R&D department. “AirTies probably started describing itself as a cloud-based WiFi platform rather than a CPE vendor some time last year. We know all about this shift in strategy,” was Soyak’s answer to that conundrum. “It’s hard to walk away from all that hardware cash when you’re selling to the likes of AT&T.”
Soyak spoke flatteringly of his former employer and Plume, playing down any competitive snarl. “If an operator has Plume Pods deployed, then we would say don’t bother deploying Lifemote, because we only do a little more than Plume in the analytics sense,” he said modestly. Lifemote has therefore become expert in legacy home gateways, primarily Linux-based, so it can deploy on all existing devices and integrate on all chipsets.
But there are downsides to being hardware-agnostic. AirTies is pushing its cloud-based WiFi management platform at every opportunity and has the AP footprint from which to drive it. The Turkish vendor is keen to turn this software into the its main bread-winner.
Lifemote started out in early 2017 by placing an agent on the WiFi home gateway, reporting data back to the cloud on a minute-by-minute basis to create usage and QoE reports. Been and done, right? Not entirely. What Lifemote says sets it apart is not focusing all its efforts on mesh as it implies most rivals are. “The majority of our data comes from lone APs. We only recently rolled out multi-AP support because there are still not many multi-AP households outside the US, but there are loads of gateways,” said Soyak. He may take a different stance if a US ISP comes knocking on the door.
When we met Lifemote at Broadband World Forum a year ago, the company was adding machine learning to automatically correct bad steers, to eventually form the foundations of a database of outcomes. Lifemote’s machine learning push is now in full swing and next year it will begin offering pooled training to ISPs, where essentially operators throw their anonymized data into a pot in a collaborative effort to improve and optimize their algorithms. There are a few interested ISP parties, although GDPR blocked Soyak from revealing any names.
“Our machine learning developments are based on client-specific parameters. An iPhone 8 for example will behave very differently to other devices, but in an ideal world we would set individual per-home parameters – so we could look at how many times a device roamed across bands,” Soyak added. “Clients are either over-eager meaning they roam hundreds of times, or they are too passive, getting stuck on 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. Typically, it is the former.”
Its AI-powered cloud analytics can go further to prioritizing MDU channel selection, made easier by a single ISP owning an entire MDU, where it can predict usage based on observations over the past week, so end users are less likely to be on interfering channels.
This is similar in a way to AirTies’ recently launched capacity forecasting tool, which measures WiFi link speeds to anticipate the impact of new service deployments, without having to run intrusive speed tests on devices. For example, if an end user signs up to a new 4K video streaming service, or a faster broadband plan, the system can project what sort of strain this will put on the home network. The key difference is that the AirTies system is essentially a tool for selling additional WiFi extenders to operators.
Lifemote is integrated on most chipsets with the two notable omissions of Intel and Quantenna. “We’re a big fan of Quantenna but without any presence in the US there isn’t much point,” Soyak answered.
Let’s Take Turk Telecom as a customer case study, with a huge legacy installed base of some 4 million single-band devices – which creates congested WiFi environments and limited signal coverage. Lifemote’s WiFi analytics interface is currently delivering insights into half a million of these, aiming to hit 2.5 million during the first half of 2020. Lifemote secured Turk Telecom’s signature a month ago, marking its biggest customer to date.
Zyxel is Lifemote’s global CPE partner but Soyak was keen to point out that the platform works with any CPE vendor. After a little encouragement, Soyak eventually admitted that AirTies, SoftAtHome, Plume and even Assia are Lifemote’s main rivals, but he offered a caution. “We are essentially a pre-sales platform for these systems, just as long as they continue to keep building kickass mesh systems. Otherwise, we will suggest operators use EasyMesh,” said Soyak, finally putting the niceties aside and baring his teeth.
Eventually, Soyak predicts that there will be either full penetration of Lifemote or full penetration of AirTies. There can only be one winner in his view and while Lifemote is making strides in Europe, you would not want to bet against a company which is firm favorite at most of the world’s top tier 1 operators.