Why Wi-Fi alone cannot meet consumer expectations

Ramón Garcia/KDPOF

The high-speed race for delivering broadband services to homes is on and Asia is in the lead. The availability of higher and higher access speeds into the home boosts the demand for a high performing, easy‐to‐install and robust home network.

With Fiber to the Home (FTTH) deployments increasing, ISPs and telecoms operators alike are offering higher and higher access speeds to the home. In Asia, consumers are offered speeds from 50Mbps up to 1Gbps, with speeds of 100Mbps to 300Mbps being the most common. Consumers are interconnecting more and more devices, both to the outside world through the ISP gateway and to each other throughout the home.

This increase in devices, using predominantly wireless connectivity, results in an overcrowded network that must be able to handle all the traffic between the devices and to/from the Internet. New applications like online gaming, coupled with more entrenched applications like high resolution video‐on‐demand such as 4K streaming, are pushing the requirements for this in-home connectivity towards lower latency (processing a very high volume of data messages with minimal delay), error-free links, and secured and stable bandwidth.

Even though ISPs and telecom operators are offering higher and higher internet access speeds, not considering the methods used to deploy the speed within the home can have worrying consequences. As consumer expectations are high due to the purchase of several hundred Mbps from their ISP or telecom operator, they are often frustrated by both the perception and experience of a much slower network connection when they connect to these services over their wireless-enabled devices. Consumers may not distinguish their access network from their home network when it comes to connectivity, and if either is performing poorly, it becomes the bottleneck. ISPs pay attention to access networks, but not as much attention as they should to home networks.

Solutions for home networks

No new wires backbone: The most obvious solution is to employ a solution that does not require any new wires. There are various options that employ this technique: a Wi-Fi‐based solution would seem to be the optimum solution, but this backbone option is exposed to inherent performance degradation by distance, walls, neighbor interference, and crowded wireless channels among others. Newer Wi-Fi versions address some of these issues, but the physics of going through walls will always remain. PLC (Power Line Communication) is another option for networking in the home, but its performance is often marginal and unpredictable. A technology like MoCa (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) also has limited applicability since it depends on the availability of coax outlets in the home, and these are normally present in very few locations.

More Wi-Fi access points: As with mobile networks, in order to increase capacity and performance, this solution involves deploying more access points. This same solution is the industry response to improve the quality of consumer experience. However, the question is which technology to use to interconnect them: the backbone.

New wires backbone: Considering a new wired network, although it requires installation, provides the advantage of high speeds and dedicated media as a backbone that is immune to overcrowding even when several users are using the network. A copper network may at first glance seem to be the optimum home network solution. However, this type of network requires the installation of CAT 5/6 cable throughout a home by means of new, very visible ducts, usually installed on the wall. Because this solution takes a long time to install and the result is unsightly to consumers’ eyes, it is not preferred despite performing well.

Optical fiber backbone: Optical fiber has an advantage over copper cable because it is not electrically conductive and its section is very thin, so it can be collocated in any duct, including electrical conduits. This means consumers do not see any new ducts or wires on the wall. There are two types of optical fiber for home networking: Glass Optical Fiber (GOF) and Plastic Optical Fiber (POF). Glass optical fiber offers a very large bandwidth, so this home network solution can potentially last for years to come. However, glass optical fiber is very delicate and very expensive to install due to connectors, so installation by a highly-trained professional is required. POF, conversely, is inexpensive and highly tolerant to bending and installation manipulation, making it easy to install since no specific skills are needed. Today’s offered speeds of 1Gbps are sufficient for most of today’s home networks and will remain sufficient for the next several years according to most industry predictions. Plastic Optical Fiber backbone performs as a wire but is as invisible as wireless.

POF combined with Wi-Fi: The ideal home network solution, therefore, combines the advantages of a POF backbone, namely 1Gbps performance and easy installation in any duct throughout the home, with the ease of installation of Wi-Fi access points. Mobile devices that connect to the network via Wi-Fi will continue to use that connection, but will enjoy the dedicated 1Gbps speed of the POF network to each the access point, resulting in increased and sustained Wi-Fi links everywhere. POF is readily available in most markets, as it has been standardized by ETSI in Europe and by IEEE. POF, connectors, and optoelectronics are also low-cost consumer parts, which provides a great opportunity to save on material, installation, testing and maintenance time.

Ramón Garcia is business development manager at KDPOF



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