Wi-Fi CPE Advances Likely To Impact Service Strategies

Zeynep Yogurtcugil, EVP, AirTies

Zeynep Yogurtcugil, EVP, AirTies

Developments at Cisco, Celeno and AirTies Signal Changes to Come

By Fred Dawson
February 11, 2014 – With surging demand for Wi-Fi solutions driving ever faster development cycles, suppliers of residential wireless modems and gateways are rapidly creating a new CPE framework for service innovation that will likely be sending strategists back to the drawing boards in the months ahead.

Increasing robustness, throughput and reach of radio technology along with innovative software applications are impacting how residential Wi-Fi platforms are used to distribute services in the home, facilitate IP and cloud migration and provide hotspot support for neighborhood expansions of wireless footprints. In each of these areas the latest advances point to better ways of doing things that in some cases are already reshaping service provider strategies.

A vivid illustration of how wireless technology advances can make the latest iterations of traditional CPE look outdated before they’re even deployed can be found in the device development strategy at Cisco Systems. For example, with its new media gateway based on the cable industry’s Reference Design Kit (RDK) shipping for commercial deployments by Comcast and other MSOs later this year, Cisco is also ramping up an all-IP RDK gateway that utilizes both MoCA (Multimedia over Coaxial Alliance) and 802.11 ac Wi-Fi technology to distribute HDTV throughout the home.

“This is running a three-by-three 802.11 ac configuration,” says Ken Morse, Cisco’s CTO for connected devices, in reference to the number of transmit and receive channels employed in the 5 GHz spectrum. “So it gives us very, very high throughput and very good reach.”

Since AT&T began deploying the 802.11n version of video-optimized Wi-Fi-enabled set-tops over two years ago, Cisco has shipped more than four million such devices, Morse notes. The volume of shipments, following some market skepticism that Wi-Fi could be used to support HD delivery throughout the home, attests to the robustness of the platform, he adds. Referring to the new MoCA/802.11 ac model, he says, “This is something where you could just ship to a customer and have them self-configure it.”

Going even further, a Wi-Fi gateway like the XB3 deployed by Comcast may become an IP set-top as well. “Today this is not running an RDK variant in any way shape or form,” he says. “But we can expect as we go forward that the success that Comcast and others have had in addressing the set-top market can be something that could be addressed in the gateway space as well.”

Not far behind in the development queue at Cisco is an even more disruptive Wi-Fi enabled device with RDK capabilities – a service provider-grade HDMI stick. “HDMI sticks are something that’s going to become much more meaningful in the future as long we can actually hit service-provider grade Wi-Fi delivered to these, because what you cannot have is best-effort service,” Morse says. “It has to be guaranteed service, and that’s one thing we’re working with our partners on.”

Moving on a different track, Wi-Fi chipmaker Celeno Communications has introduced a number of innovations that offer service providers much greater flexibility in their ability to manage wireless connectivity inside and outside the home. Most notably, Celeno’s new OptimizAIR 2.0 airtime management suite enables the provisioning, enforcement and dynamic allocation of Wi-Fi air time capacity to different virtual networks and different clients from a single access point, according to vice president of marketing and business development Lior Weiss.

“We’re giving service providers an opportunity to manage Wi-Fi in ways that optimize quality-of-service in accord with the operator’s priorities,” Weiss says.

This is done by assigning different shares of available bandwidth to different types of devices, services or network configurations, he explains. For example, premium video delivered to managed clients, namely, set-top boxes, might be accorded a higher share than video delivered to unmanaged clients like smartphones and tablets, while OTT video, best-effort data, smart home apps and other categories might be assigned still different shares of capacity.

The first announced customer for Celeno’s new management software is Liberty Global International, which has been using Celeno’s chips in its next-gen Horizon gateways for some time. The gateway integrates cable, Web-based and personal content and enables sharing and viewing content on multiple screens and devices wirelessly anywhere in the home, notes Doron Hacmon, managing director for products and the Online Media Group at Liberty.

“Wi-Fi is an important service for Liberty Global and our customers have very high expectations of their Wi-Fi user experience,” Hacmon says. “Celeno’s solution allows us to deliver a highly reliable and effective service.”

“You can manage the cap levels by service category, MAC address or SSIDs (service set identifiers),” Weiss says. “You can manage the input on devices and change the levels as needed.” It’s up to OEMs to integrate these capabilities with the operator’s management system, he adds.

Still another line of development is evidenced in the product suite offered by AirTies, a supplier of gateways, including set-top boxes, supporting HD-quality Wi-Fi connectivity throughout the home. “The key to our technology is mesh connectivity,” says AirTies executive vice president Zeynep Yogurtcugil.

“From the beginning we set out to create a whole-home Wi-Fi solution for all situations, allowing us to go through thick walls and to cover all floors and rooms in the home,” Yogurtcugil says, noting the Turkish firm was founded nine years ago by a team of Silicon Valley executives. “We took care of that. All points interconnect using boosters to push signal strength to the appropriate levels. With our technology there are no limits to the number of TVs you can connect. Everything is balanced to achieve maximum efficiency in the use of spectrum.”

A key focus of AirTies, which counts BSkyB, Swisscom, Orange Spain, Digiturk and other European service providers among its clientele, has been to support distribution of premium content streamed from the Web to all devices in the home with maximum quality assurance. “We have a focus on OTT,” says Burak Onat, product manager at AirTies. “We think OTT is the future.”

For example, using AirTies’ STB platform, Orange Spain is delivering a package that seamlessly integrates over-the-air DTT (digital terrestrial television) channels with OTT-delivered VOD and other video content. In another variation on the theme, Turkish DBS provider Digiturk is offering its pay TV lineup terrestrially over the Internet using the AirTies STB and Wi-Fi distribution technology, and, like Orange Spain, Digiturk is supporting cloud-based catch-up TV service, allowing users to go back as far as 12 hours on any pay TV channel.

Notably, the AirTies system is designed to accommodate whatever types of streaming technology SPs want to use with their service, as well as the native streaming modes associated with OTT content from other sources that they want to bring into their domain on their universal UIs. As demonstrated by Onat, the STB instantly accesses content selections no matter what the source as the user clicks from one channel or on-demand option to the next.

In the case of Digiturk, the primary pay TV package is delivered in multicast mode using the proprietary adaptive bitrate streaming technology supplied by Octoshape. In the demo, the channel changing went smoothly across the pay TV channels and into streams coming in from OTT sources via Microsoft Smooth streaming and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). In all cases, as the channel is tuned, the streamed bitrate is set to a minimum level, allowing the system to adjust to allocate bandwidth at the optimum available bitrate depending on what else is happening in the home. This way, Onat explains, all devices can tune to anything users want without waiting for buffering or being cut off from access.

In the case of Digiturk all content can be recorded on the whole-home DVR built into the STB, including content delivered over Smooth. “Technically, this is a challenge, but it’s necessary,” Onat says. “The user expectation is that if you can record a DTT channel you should also be able to record an OTT channel,” he notes.

While cloud-based DVR services will address this need eventually, many operators don’t want to assume the cost burden of supporting cloud DVR at this point, he adds. “We found out the industry is looking for DVR for Smooth streaming,” he says. “So we’re able to hit the record button and the recording will start on the channel.”

One of the biggest challenges service providers face with expanding use of Wi-Fi is the need to make sure dual use of residential access points as public hotspots for expansion of Wi-Fi footprints into neighborhoods is executed with no disruption to subscribers’ QoS. While all such deployments use SSIDs to partition home and public use, it’s essential that spectrum allocation be managed so that public access is not consuming airwaves needed for sustaining high-quality sessions in the home.

“You don’t want to have people logging in from the street and hogging capacity in the home,” Weiss says. “Wi-Fi is a collision technology, so there’s no intrinsic air allocation between clients.”

This can be problematic even with low usage rates in residential neighborhoods, he adds. “If you have a low-power client outside with a low signal link, it may over use the air capacity. So the operator has to be able to enforce capacity utilization on each SSID.” This is one of the key benefits of the capabilities introduced with Celeno’s OptimizAIR 2.0, he adds.