Wi-Fi Advances and Testing Validate MSOs’ Expectations

Derek Elder, SVP & GM, Touchstone CPE, ARRIS

Derek Elder, SVP & GM, Touchstone CPE, ARRIS

October 26, 2012 – The cable industry is moving rapidly to eliminate any concerns over the viability of Wi-Fi technology as a linchpin to next-generation cable services inside and outside the home.
While new performance levels embodied in what is known as IEEE 802.11ac bode well for eventually making the wireless platform far more robust at much higher speeds, cable MSOs can’t afford to wait for commercial implementation of the new standard if Wi-Fi is to deliver what they need over the next couple of years. Instead, they’re aggressively testing new advances vendors have devised to allow them to build the next-gen foundation on the existing 802.11n platform.

One case in point is the new series of DOCSIS 3.0 wireless in-home network gateways introduced this month by ARRIS, which employ technology developed by Celeno Communications to enable voice, data and video connections at up to 900 megabits per second. The new Touchtone devices provide operators a way to use Wi-Fi to support carrier-class quality-of-experience on whole-home service to all connected IP devices, from TVs to smartphones, says Derek Elder, senior vice president and general manager of the ARRIS Touchstone CPE Division.

The ARRIS gateways, running on Intel PUMA6 and PUMA6 Media Gateway chips, also introduce channel bonding capabilities of up to 16 or 24 downstream and four or eight upstream. But it’s the Wi-Fi capabilities that address operators’ most pressing needs, Elder notes.

“The ability to do 16- or 24-channel bonding future proofs the gateways,” he says. “But most operators will go with four-channel bonding groups in 2013.It’s the advances in Wi-Fi that are more relevant to their needs in 2013.”

The CLR260 chip developed by Celeno, an Israel-based fabless semiconductor firm, employs beam forming to deliver a 4.5 dB signal gain in conjunction with 802.11n MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) technology that coordinates transmissions to and from three antennas operating in the 2.4 GHz band and three in the 5GHz band. “Transforming a Wi-Fi subsystem that was optimized for data to one that’s optimized for video is really hard,” Elder says. “Celeno is the first company to achieve this.”

Other capabilities vital to video-quality service that are enabled by Celeno include real-time channel aware adaptive rate selection, which eliminates packet loss and maximizes throughput, and real-time fast-channel hopping. Advanced PHY-level interference detection also contributes to sustained high-quality performance, the company says.

Providing consumers gateways that can deliver bit-error-free signals enabling high QoE on the largest HD sets is not just a means by which operators can facilitate access to their own premium services as they migrate to IP, Elder notes. It’s also a way to avoid customer service issues. “With every device consumers add to their in-home networks, the demand for bandwidth must be met,” he says.

The ARRIS move with Celeno drew immediate praise from Liberty Global, an ARRIS customer which is using Celeno technology with its next-generation multiscreen Horizon service in Europe. “Liberty Global is confident that these new products will meet important market needs and offer superior value to cable operators and their subscribers,” says Liberty vice president of technology Bill Wargo.

Complementing the in-home advances are innovations aimed at automating and increasing the robustness of performance in the exterior environment, where the goal is to create a Wi-Fi infrastructure that seamlessly interoperates with the operator’s DOCSIS infrastructure while supporting business models that require automated handoffs between mobile and Wi-Fi networks. Aggressive testing of such capabilities is now underway in the field and in lab environments, says Ross Cassan, director of product marketing for service provider solutions at Spirent Communications, a leading supplier of test equipment and services.

“We’re definitely seeing a serious commitment within the cable industry to this arena,” Cassan says. For example, he notes, suppliers of routing gear like Cisco Systems and Alcatel-Lucent are incorporating Wi-Fi controller technology into their big routers with the capability to manage hundreds of thousands and even millions of Wi-Fi cable subscribers.

Spirent has enhanced the capabilities of its Landslide wireless emulation and testing platform to support testing of offloading between Wi-Fi and mobile services, which has become a top priority for MSOs executing on new affiliations with mobile providers. With emulated support of over 30,000 Wi-Fi access points and millions of subscribers in the test environment, Spirent Landslide is able to identify capacity limits and verify application performance such as handoffs, replicating real conditions with user behaviors, converged traffic and network conditions, Cassan says.

“Our tool allows equipment manufacturers and MSOs to emulate real-world scenarios, not only to ensure smooth handoffs but to make sure authentication is working properly without requiring subscribers to input passwords,” Cassan says. “We’re testing whether transitions from one Wi-Fi access point to the next as subscribers move across a coverage zone are working properly and whether quality performance requirements for real-time communications are being met. It takes a lot of coordination on the backend to make all this work.”

The good news is things generally are working as they should. While MSOs have not begun to roll out the latest Wi-Fi advances aimed at supporting seamless handoffs across multiple types of mobile networks, there’s growing confidence that they can expect to see good results when they do, Cassan says.

“Everything seems to be working quite well,” he says. “And it’s scaling well.”