AirTies aims to kill Wi-Fi dead spots

02 Jul 2015

One of the trickier aspects of the Internet of Things is that many of those “things” will be connected wirelessly inside homes. That’s tricky because – as those of you who have already installed Wi-Fi in your home have no doubt already realized – it’s tough to stick an access point in a location that provides optimal coverage in every room.

That’s especially problematic if you want to stream video to your tablet in whatever room you happen to be in (and by some accounts, up to 80% of home Wi-Fi traffic is video). Repeaters only get you so far, and not every customer has the technical acumen to install them. And the more devices you connect, the harder it is to ensure that every room is getting enough capacity, especially with devices pinging the AP every ten seconds to let it know where they are.

At the BroadcastAsia2015 event in Singapore last month, AirTies spent time hawking its solution to this dilemma: a set-top box armed with wireless mesh software. The vendor’s so-called “client steering” technology provides an active network management component that dynamically switches mobile devices seamlessly between APs (as well as between the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands) to improve Wi-Fi performance. This helps offload traffic from the home gateway and improves capacity anywhere from three to ten times, according to AirTies CEO Philippe Alcaras.

While this is potentially good news for broadband operators keen on offering home networking services, the ultimate goal, Alcaras says, is to help broadband operators live up to the expectations of their customers when they sign up for a fat broadband pipe.

“If you pay for a 100-Mbps connection, you expect to get 100 Mbps, no matter what device you’re using or where you’re using it in the home,” he says. “But in reality the higher the bandwidth, the bigger the gap between what you pay for and what you get.”

It’s not just a question of installing faster Wi-Fi APs, he adds. “802.11ac is faster than .11a or .11n, but it doesn’t penetrate walls as well, so that’s going to slow it down.”

Between the walls, the number of devices competing for capacity (to say nothing of the neighbors, who are using the same unlicensed spectrum as you) and the fact that part of that 100-Mbps may also be delivering IPTV services, telcos have their work cut out for them providing sufficient QoS for both the pipe and every device that wants to use it.

Traditionally, the attitude from telcos has been that anything past the home gateway wasn’t their problem. But that’s changing, says Alcaras. “Now with OTT, they’re thinking it is their responsibility to deal with QoS inside the home, because if it doesn’t work, the customer doesn't call the OTT provider to complain – they call the operator.”

Indeed, with all eyes on the IoT and the growing role of smart devices in video consumption, more operators are taking an interest in improving home network QoS. The most recent example is SingTel, which wrapped up a trial of AirTies’ client-steering technology last month. The results aren't scheduled to be released until at least the end of August, but last week AirTies formally released client-steering as part of its product portfolio [PDF], which suggests the trial went well.

There’s also a potential business model here for telcos besides just selling AirTies devices to consumers, says Alcaras. “Some operators have been targeting consumers who call up and report coverage or performance issues, but they’re now starting to look at another business model – monetizing this via ‘premium Wi-Fi’. So for $50 a month you get broadband – for an extra $10, you receive the equipment for optimized Wi-Fi. The idea is not to provide it to people who shout the most, but to people willing to pay.”

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