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19 December 2019

WiFi war of words continues as ASSIA fuels fire, namedrops tier 1s

US broadband management expert ASSIA had a bone to pick with Faultline before the year was out. The vendor felt hard done by that we hadn’t placed ASSIA on the same pedestal as WiFi analytics aficionados AirTies, SoftAtHome, Plume and smaller entrant Lifemote in a recent write up, so ASSIA picked up the phone and broke down why each of these rivals has superior marketing but intrinsic shortcomings.

The crux of these supposed shortcomings (as any rival would say), according to ASSIA’s Chief Strategy Officer Tuncay Cil, is that they all – with the exception of Lifemote – are hardware companies selling various flavors of cloud-based WiFi management toolkits on top. That is ASSIA’s key selling point, avoiding vendor lock-in, but we reiterated that ASSIA’s CloudCheck product was clearly late to the party some 3 years behind AirTies which altered the market with its mesh technology.

Quickly, Cil stopped us in our tracks by name dropping two tier 1 operator giants using the CloudCheck technology off the record. We hope ASSIA is allowed to talk about these wins soon as it would dramatically change the company’s general perception, as a DSL-focused firm founded by broadband inventor John Cioffi with a WiFi product more similar to technology offered by the silicon guys than the CPE guys and the pure WiFi software guys.

Cil reacted instinctively to Faultline’s comments. “This is wrong. We have actually had CloudCheck since 2013 and Telefonica has been using it since 2013 (despite officially announcing this in 2018). We are trying to understand diagnostics and put software on any hardware – placing our client on any device and reaching right down into performance on remote CPE,” said Cil, formerly of AirTies.

CloudCheck essentially takes experience from a home’s WiFi performance, reports this data to the cloud where machine learning algorithms analyze and then automatically tune WiFi performance. It can use techniques like band steering and now multi-AP steering after ASSIA started supporting multi-AP architectures in mid-2018. The main ASSIA strength however is in storing channel configurations about which channel worked best at which time of day, or day of the week, and can automatically adjust its configuration when it’s not performing well enough.

ASSIA says it provides real-time diagnostics, self-healing, and optimization of WiFi and – like the AirTies Remote View software – it allows operator staff to take a look at all the connections in real time in a house.

ASSIA’s lateness to multi-AP support was a commercial issue over a technical issue, according to Cil. “Most journalists don’t get that CPE vendors are not paying attention to consumer preferences. CPE was horribly designed until Plume arrived at Comcast and changed that. Vendors like Alcatel brainwashed carriers into thinking they didn’t need an agent on the gateway and only needed TR069,” he added.

TR069 is the Broadband Forum’s technical spec defining an application layer protocol for remote CPE management. This came over as a little hypocritical, considering ASSIA did a deal with rival Canadian network analytics firm Incognito last year, integrating the Incognito product line using the TR069 standard for issuing commands. Although TR069 is not capable of fixing all WiFi issues that on-device memory agents can, and we now know ASSIA goes beyond this, with a layered architecture comprising a smart agent and cloud infrastructure.

“ASSIA’s key difference from SoftAtHome is that it is building CPE and analytics on top, while the key difference from Plume is that it is creating a monetization platform. Not being tied to CPE means an operator can bring in their own security and other features to make the whole thing more cost-effective,” added Cil.

He cited a handful of vendors we should include in our line-up of intelligent WiFi software suppliers, including Nokia which has its own mesh system, and Norway-based Domos which also offers CPE-agnostic machine learning capabilities to slice the network to create fast WiFi tracks.

Cil also talked about ASSIA having some 600 patents, mainly focused on optimization and diagnostics across all networks, but also pointing to MU-MIMO which is a key enabling technology in WiFi 6. “Everyone has do to marketing on machine learning now, and you need auto-learning to collect, correlate and normalize data. We have Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) and low latency and this can run on a diverse set of devices, some capable of upstream,” said Cil.

But what about the numbers? ASSIA claims its products reach 125 million subscribers at 38 service providers across 18 countries. It promises up to 20% customer retention, a 40% reduction in APs with most interference, a 75% fall in reports of poor quality IPTV, while increasing home speeds 12-fold and improving network QoE by up to 35%.

Such was the focus on CloudCheck that ASSIA’s DSL Expresse product wasn’t mentioned once, a tool for managing DSL vectoring and automated fault finding.

Purely out of respect, we will not publish the extent to which Cil slammed some of his main rivals as we feel this was largely reactionary. However, his passion for the market did provide some interesting political insight – criticizing the standards bodies and carriers in particular for projecting 7-year lifespans for CPE equipment, hence why ASSIA has found a niche in legacy WiFi which we get the impression it is desperate to break out of.

“The pace of this industry is incredibly slow. Carriers are not making enough money and are becoming like utilities, and it is also the fault of governments for allowing these delays,” Cil criticized in one final swing of his sword.