Bart Vercammen, Technicolor: Home Wifi Networks Must Accommodate Huge Increases in Traffic to Meet Consumer Expectations

10 September 2014

A Conversation with Bart Vercammen, Vice President of Product Management, Technicolor

As more devices generate demand for new and richer content in today’s Connected Home, the wireless LANs that carry this explosion in traffic are straining to maintain the levels of service that consumers expect. While technology has evolved to deliver more bandwidth within the home, the ability to keep the quality of the actual user experience has not kept pace. Home Wi-Fi issues have snowballed, and consumers – along with service providers – have largely operated in the dark without tools to provide insight into problem areas that can then lead to the application of appropriate solutions. For example, consumers frustrated with the inability of a tablet computer to stream television content find it difficult to isolate which, of many variables, are the cause of the poor performance.

Technicolor has developed several technologies aimed specifically at improving the consumer’s Wi-Fi experience. In this executive Q&A, Technicolor’s VP of product management Bart Vercammen discusses the issues around Wi-Fi performance and the user experience, and details the work Technicolor is doing to improve both so that consumers can actually reap all that the Connected Home has to offer.

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A Conversation with Bart Vercammen, Vice President of Product Management, Technicolor

As more devices generate demand for new and richer content in today’s Connected Home, the wireless LANs that carry this explosion in traffic are straining to maintain the levels of service that consumers expect. While technology has evolved to deliver more bandwidth within the home, the ability to keep the quality of the actual user experience has not kept pace. Home Wi-Fi issues have snowballed, and consumers – along with service providers – have largely operated in the dark without tools to provide insight into problem areas that can then lead to the application of appropriate solutions. For example, consumers frustrated with the inability of a tablet computer to stream television content find it difficult to isolate which, of many variables, are the cause of the poor performance.

Technicolor has developed several technologies aimed specifically at improving the consumer’s Wi-Fi experience. In this executive Q&A, Technicolor’s VP of product management Bart Vercammen discusses the issues around Wi-Fi performance and the user experience, and details the work Technicolor is doing to improve both so that consumers can actually reap all that the Connected Home has to offer.

Let’s talk about the Wi-Fi market in the home. How has it developed and how does it fit in with the growing array of connected devices in the home that are going to consume more resources and create more traffic on that Wi-Fi network?

Bart: If you look at the amount of smartphones and tablets with Wi-Fi capabilities that have been shipped, you will see that this market is growing exponentially. That is the first important trend. A second trend is that users are more mobile than before. A lot of the content and usage data has been consumed inside the home, but even then, it’s not done in a stationery manner. More and more people connect in a home environment on devices over the Wi-Fi to the Internet. They are as mobile within their homes as they are when they are on the go.

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Finally, more and more we seeing video content consumption grow, and people are using their home WiFi networks to access this rich and bandwidth intensive traffic.

If you put all three of these trends together—the growth in the amount of devices that want to connect wirelessly and growth in where and how consumers want to connect and what they want to consume—what you get is immense opportunities for digital traffic jams that affect the consumer experience.

This is because video content on Wi-Fi networks is more prone to technology glitches then if you are just carrying data, for example. The problem is compounded as that traffic competes with other devices and content for delivery. It creates a lot of confusion.

As a result the complete user experience is under strain in terms of Wi-Fi. And service providers are often blind to what is happening in the home with Wi-Fi. So what you have is an explosive cocktail, if you will, in terms of what the needs are.

At Technicolor, we are developing solutions for these problems, and we are focused on user-driven, user-friendly solutions that will improve access, resolve issues and improve customer satisfaction.

For operators, we are working to provide solutions that increase their visibility so they can actively attack the problems, proactively provide solutions and glean insights so they can improve their services.

As you noted, people, and devices, move around a lot while connected to the Wi-Fi, and depending on where the antennas are placed, performance can be affected. How are you addressing that?

Bart: There are multiple issues with mobility and being in various places inside the home. People might see performance degrade when they are too far away from the antenna or there is a wall between them and the antenna or any number of issues that can cause interference that degrades performance.

The real problem is that there is so little visibility into the Wi- Fi performance and trouble-spots. Unlike traditional wired environments, help desk providers cannot simply ask their customers to check and make sure that cables are properly connected. The key, we believe, is to create a diagnostic tool that can be used by the consumer to not only troubleshoot problems, but also to communicate and interact with customer support teams from service providers.

Specifically, Technicolor has developed a Wi-Fi Doctor for the consumer that can be used on a smartphone that will diagnose the end user’s Wi-Fi experience and make recommendations on how to improve the Wi-Fi network performance.

On the backend, we’ve developed a Wi-Fi Doctor that provides visibility to the solution provider about what is going on in the home. That visibility can be used proactively if the customer calls into a help desk. But it can also be used by the provider to suggest Wi-Fi solutions that would best serve the end user.

Another area we are working on revolves around problems that arise when there are multiple access points in the home. In the mobile cellular world, a typical client device will try to stay connected to its initial connection until the connection drops. Then, as the consumer moves, the devices will try to establish a new connection.

In Wi-Fi, that capability does not exist. So we’ve developed a solution we call a network controller that basically monitors the user experience of the clients connected to the access points and lets clients roam from one access point to another seamlessly.

What’s going on with standards such as the 802.11ac gigabit standard to provide more intelligent connectivity. Would technology based on that address some of these issues?

Bart: If you look back over the past couple of years, the overwhelming number of devices with wireless home capabilities are shipped with traditional Wi-Fi technology that operates in the 2.4GHz band. But now, in a lot of big cities, that frequency is becoming overcrowded.

At the end of last year, operators were getting more and more requests for devices that use the 5.0 GHz band. And in 2014, they are getting requests for higher-end devices and also mainstream devices that have 802.11ac inside.

Starting in 2015 and onward, operators will be adding the technology in their networks to support mainstream 802.11ac. That will provide a number of benefits, and the first is that the 5GHz band provides another spectrum that’s less crowded and less prone to interference. The signal doesn’t travel that far, which causes less interference with neighbors so in that sense it is also more ideal.

It is important to note that the number of smartphones supporting this standard that is still limited. However, we expect a big wave the end of 2014 and in 2015 that will support the 802.11ac stands.

One of the main benefits of 802.11ac lies in the fact that it will help extend battery life in mobile devices. If you embed an 802.11 ac chip in a mobile phone, you can reach three times the bandwidth without any negative impact on the battery life. Therein lies the sweet spot. Beamforming, which focuses signals in a single direction versus the omnidirectional signaling used in traditional Wi-Fi, will also provide better coverage in a room and will deliver more consistent bit rate availability throughout the home.

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