End-users’ broadband experience is largely determined by the last couple of meters in the home and in 95% of the cases, that is the Wi-Fi connection. That means, a bad Wi-Fi connection can ruin the whole broadband experience, no matter how many gigabits you bring to the home. Hence, a solid and reliable Wi-Fi connection is paramount for a good broadband experience.
In addition to providing a solid and reliable connection, there are more requirements for Wi-Fi, especially if one looks at the various applications and services people run over their Wi-Fi networks.
Video traffic is, and will remain, the dominant traffic type in the years to come, and its throughput demand in the home will keep growing towards 1 Gb/s with the emergence of more sophisticated technologies like 4K and 8K video.
Simultaneously, interactive applications relying on high-quality video and demanding both high-throughput and low-latency are proliferating. Those that pose the most stringent requirements are augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), gaming, remote office, and telepresence. (See Figure 1.)
To satisfy the digital needs and enable a smooth user experience of its occupiers, a residential home network must provide a multitude of reliable and high-capacity wireless links.
Each of these links should be capable of delivering more than 100 megabits per second (Mb/s) with less than 20 ms latency. In addition, a growing number of sensors and smart home devices will populate the home and present more connectivity challenges.
End-users are still struggling a lot with their Wi-Fi. The problems can be grouped in three categories: performance, coverage, and complexity.
Typically, the Wi-Fi performance is hampered by interference. We oftentimes deal with our neighbors’ Wi-Fi interfering with our bandwidth. But we may underestimate, or be unaware, that other things impact Wi-Fi signals like microwave ovens and Bluetooth devices on Wi-Fi.
Additionally, we expect high Wi-Fi speeds, not only in the living room, where typically the residential gateway or router is installed, but in every corner of the home.
And while we think we understand the complexity of Wi-Fi; it remains a difficult technology for the average end-user to master. There are quite a few parameters to consider if we truly want to optimize our Wi-Fi.
These end-user problems (and more) have a severe impact on service providers. In fact, according to Omdia,1 60% of all help desk calls are Wi-Fi related. Unfortunately, many help desk agents have no visibility into specific in-home networks. That translates into a Wi-Fi related help desk call typically taking between 20 and 30 minutes to resolve.
This adds up to a huge operational expense for the service provider. The only way out is for service providers to offer a managed Wi-Fi service, where they manage the Wi-Fi on behalf of the end-users.
The current generation of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, is certainly equipped with a set of features designed to meet current demand. Concurrently, IEEE 802.11 and Wi-Fi Alliance are also preparing for Wi-Fi product upgrades and evolution. This will happen through the ongoing Wi-Fi 6E certification program, which has an objective to add to the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands as well as the recently released 6 GHz one.
This ongoing evolution matters because Wi-Fi 6 is the first new generation of Wi-Fi that increases the peak rate and adopts features that are primarily aimed to help heavily loaded networks. These features improve capacity, spectrum efficiency and latency in dense deployments whether they be private or public.
The key features of Wi-Fi 6 are:
- Uplink and downlink orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) tightly orchestrates how the spectrum is accessed by all devices in the network, reducing contention, increasing determinism and reliability.
- OFDMA subdivides a channel into small frequency allocations so multiple users, typically up to 30, can use the same channel quasi-simultaneously. This increases efficiency and lowers latency for both downstream and upstream traffic.
- Multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) allows multiple streams of data to be transferred at the same time in the same channel. This allows several high-bandwidth applications to run concurrently, increasing the network capacity and efficiency. Wi-Fi 6 extends downlink and uplink MU-MIMO to transmit eight spatial streams simultaneously to eight devices.
- Beamforming, which improves signal strength and reduces interference is enabled through the basic service set (BSS) coloring mechanism. This mechanism enables a device to quickly discard a packet when it’s not the intended receiver. The better interference control and improved signal strength provided by the previous four features can be further exploited by a higher modulation mode (1024 QAM), which enables higher peak speeds.
- A wider channel capability of 40, 80 and optionally 160 MHz offers the possibility for higher peak rates but reduces the number of noninterfering channels in the band. Additionally, targeted wake time (TWT) schedules sleep and wake times for longer battery life, which is particularly beneficial for IoT applications.
“Wi-Fi 6 needs to be dynamic in its constantly changing environment. It is always adjusting for interference from neighboring Wi-Fi networks, household appliances being switched on and off or even the user moving around.”
A Mesh to Manage?
Most Wi-Fi households have a single access point (AP), which is likely tethered to their broadband modem via Ethernet or integrated into their residential gateway.
A single AP home may benefit from the latest Wi-Fi technology, such as Wi-Fi 6. Then, it can be extended with a second AP, commonly known as mesh Wi-Fi or whole-home Wi-Fi. Mesh Wi-Fi improves Wi-Fi coverage and the quality of the customer experience. But the need for managed Wi-Fi grows exponentially with mesh Wi-Fi (multiple mesh APs), because it adds another layer of complexity that requires management of the mesh backhaul between two mesh APs.
That’s why a service provider managed Wi-Fi solution ensures the best possible broadband experience for end-users. It does this by automating the Wi-Fi optimization process as much as possible, resulting in a self-optimizing network; by dynamically adjusting Wi-Fi settings to mitigate any potential issues and provide the highest throughput to all devices. It also provides CSPs the tools to effectively manage Wi-Fi-related problems when they occur.
To put it simply, Wi-Fi needs to be dynamic in its constantly changing environment. It is always adjusting for interference from neighboring Wi-Fi networks, household appliances being switched on and off or even the user moving around. A surprising challenge is the weather radar. If they begin scanning, regulations may call for neighborhood Wi-Fi access points to stop using the needed frequencies.
As such, it’s critical that Wi-Fi APs have embedded algorithms to detect and mitigate these real-time issues. Should there be interference, the algorithm can select an alternative channel. This process of band steering is similar to client steering because it needs to happen in real-time, and is referred to as real-time, reactive Wi-Fi optimization or “self-optimizing” Wi-Fi.
Optimizing Cloud-Based Wi-Fi
Through computational power and data collection, additional cloud-based algorithms can complement local optimization to create thorough, proactive Wi-Fi optimization.
In this situation, GDPR-compliant data is anonymously collected without any ties to personal information. By analyzing the data, the algorithms can change Wi-Fi parameters or enforce specific policies—providing valuable alerts and reports.
Better yet, the cloud allows visibility into neighboring Wi-Fi Aps—mitigating the impact of the Aps on each other. Examples of proactive Wi-Fi optimization include long-term frequency planning, transmitting power control, and load balancing across channels and bands.
Just recently, Nokia launched its new flagship Wi-Fi device, called the Nokia WiFi Beacon 10, which supports Wi-Fi 6E and allows mesh networking to extend the coverage to any size home with a Wi-Fi throughput of up to 10 Gbps.
All of the above needs to be considered when establishing a solid and reliable Wi-Fi connection. By overcoming these challenges, CSPs can deliver Wi-Fi 6 and ensure their FTTx home deployments result in end-user delight.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. OMDIA: The Future Telco-Connected Home – January 2021, https://omdia.tech.informa.com/-/media/tech/omdia/marketing/commissioned-research/pdfs/pushing-fiber-closer-to-the-customer-to-meet-the-needs-of-future-home-broadband-applications.pdf