Wi-Fi Technology is Due for a Major Paradigm Shift Toward More Scalable Solutions – Jon Walkenhorst, CTO Technicolor Connected Home

24 April 2017

  • Jon Walkenhorst, CTO of Technicolor’s Connected Home , says the current paradigm of home Wi-Fi — where each Wi-Fi gateway operates autonomously of those around it — is unsustainable because as future traffic demands increase, especially in high density areas, customer’s (subscribers) expectations are also rising as competing wireless (LTE) quality is improving, putting an ever increasing demand on service providers’ support centers as consumers call to complain about poor network performance.
  • Technicolor is working on scalable technology that will coordinate Wi-Fi across multiple gateways and give service providers visibility into the Wi-Fi environment in which they are operating. This will enable a paradigm shift in broadband service delivery to where each broadband connection and wireless gateway serves several adjacent homes in a multi-dwelling unit.
  • Ultimately, he envisions a consumer’s subscription to a home broadband service that gives consumer’s access to wireless gateways across a broad geographic area.
Read full article

  • Jon Walkenhorst, CTO of Technicolor’s Connected Home , says the current paradigm of home Wi-Fi — where each Wi-Fi gateway operates autonomously of those around it — is unsustainable because as future traffic demands increase, especially in high density areas, customer’s (subscribers) expectations are also rising as competing wireless (LTE) quality is improving, putting an ever increasing demand on service providers’ support centers as consumers call to complain about poor network performance.
  • Technicolor is working on scalable technology that will coordinate Wi-Fi across multiple gateways and give service providers visibility into the Wi-Fi environment in which they are operating. This will enable a paradigm shift in broadband service delivery to where each broadband connection and wireless gateway serves several adjacent homes in a multi-dwelling unit.
  • Ultimately, he envisions a consumer’s subscription to a home broadband service that gives consumer’s access to wireless gateways across a broad geographic area.

Jon Walkenhorst, Chief Technology Officer for the Connected Home division of Technicolor

Jon Walkenhorst, Chief Technology Officer for the Connected Home division of Technicolor

Jon Walkenhorst, Chief Technology Officer of Technicolor’s Connected Home, explains how growing demand for bandwidth in the home is pushing today’s Wi-Fi deployments beyond their limits and creating serious headaches for network service providers who are fielding Wi-Fi-related contact center calls. He says a paradigm shift is needed and explains how Technicolor is working to make this a reality.

Jon, we are in a world where wireless is no longer used just to connect phones and people on the go. Wi-Fi is playing a critical role in several different environments to enable the customer experience to be a positive one. Tell us what a scalable Wi-Fi strategy for service providers might look like from a strategic perspective and why it’s an important concept for the industry to understand.

Walkenhorst: If we look at this from a holistic perspective, consumers want a working solution where they neither know nor care whether they’re connected via mobile, or LTE, or home Wi-Fi. They just want it to work.

As demand for bandwidth intensive services rise, I believe current service providers that offer broadband into the home — and then Wi-Fi within the home — will experience pressure from outside-the-home wireless competitors.

To address that and try to offer similar services, we’re focusing our two- to three-year plan for Wi-Fi on the idea of a self-optimizing networks, or SONs.  This technology enables the network to tell the end device network access point to connect with. We envision in which it will feasible – and desirable – for devices to intelligently determine the best path to take. It may be the network in the home; it may be the network in the home next door; it may be the network across the street.

It’s really about how the consumer gains access to ubiquitous Wi-Fi, and that is a term we haven’t really used before. Today, we live in a world where you have one customer, one radio, one gateway. That is not really ubiquitous.

It’s such a shift away from one specific set of equipment in someone’s home that delivers a specific set of services.  What shifts do carriers — whether satellite carriers, cable providers or telco providers — need to make to begin taking advantage of this new reality, this potential opportunity to connect people in their homes to content and services?

Walkenhorst: I’d say the first step is the mental shift to realizing that the world of Wi-Fi is not a one-to-one relationship. The second step would be collecting data to understand what’s going on in the customer’s home. I’m not talking about privacy data and click data. I’m talking about the health of the Wi-Fi network, such as:

What is the congestion of the next-door neighbor’s Wi-Fi?

That is something we can do in the first step. We can provide data on the health of the network, but we aren’t able to combine information on the health of two neighboring networks so we can see the whole picture in the region.

Having an aggregated demand perspective would create opportunities to change the game. Would it be a business driver? Would it create an opportunity to either drive out costs, or drive down costs and perhaps create the ever-elusive opportunity to increase revenue or margins?

Walkenhorst: I’m looking forward to having the debate around my belief that this is both an OPEX (operating expense) and a CAPEX (capital expense) opportunity. In-home network issues are one of the primary drivers of calls to service providers.

Consumers might not know the difference between Wi-Fi and broadband. They might not know that their cable network is slow, or that their DSL is slow, or that their next-door neighbor is creating too much Wi-Fi traffic. They just know it’s not performing to their expectations.

So, they call and say “my network is down,” or “my network is slow.” That’s a really ambiguous term to a tech support person because there are so many variables around what that could mean.

The tech support person spends the next 10 to 15 minutes narrowing those down, and every minute spent on a call is a very expensive proposition. If the operator is able to see what is happening in the home through the modem itself, if it can return “I am seeing this much traffic, and I am seeing it on this frequency at this power level,” the operator can respond to those calls much more efficiently.

The first-generation devices we’re working on would let the operator move the user to another frequency. The second-generation devices would shift frequencies on their own, so the user may never see the problem.

If we do this right and go into multi-dwelling unit (MDUs), such as an apartment building that has, let’s say, 100 units, 10 floors at 10 units per floor, we need to ask ourselves: “Why do I need 100 gateways?  Why do I need 100 extenders?”

In multi-dwelling units (MDUs), the problems are often much different than in single family neighborhoods where households are more spread out.

In an MDU, if consumers are feeling the pain of poor Wi-Fi, they typically go to their local retailer and buy a three-pack of access points and extenders, then take them home and plug them in.

By doing so, they’ve just added three new radios where there were there are too many radios already. They don’t know the difference. They’re just trying to address a signal-loss problem — when, in reality, the problem is too much signal.

If we can address that issue in such a way that I can cut down the number of radios but increase the quality of the signal, I’ve reduced the capital expense. I don’t need as many modems and gateways.

That introduces a new billing model — one that requires a mind shift. Today, I bill one customer for one gateway. That means one bill for broadband services.

If I don’t have to provide broadband technologies to every unit, how do I charge for those services? You could say I am now approximating a billing model similar to that of the mobile service providers. Consumers buy either a certain amount of bandwidth per month, or a guaranteed service, wherever they are.

These are discussions we need to have, but I maintain that, regardless of what Wi-Fi solution is introduced, as soon as the mobile operators have a competitive wireless solution that beams services into the home, the playing field will be leveled, and the fixed-network operators will have to find another way to provide services. That’s going to happen regardless of whether or not they adopt this wireless solution, in my opinion.

I guess consumers will have to get over the hump of thinking: If we don’t have an Ethernet service coming into the home, how can we possibly be getting the best service?

And your argument is, as we’ve seen already with LTE, that they’re getting better and better broadband services wirelessly without connecting to something that is local to their home, and that the same model can play out more broadly among consumers who are requesting increasing amounts of bandwidth. Is that correct?

Walkenhorst: That’s the crux of the issue. In the future, consumers will not be paying for a class of service such as 100 megabits per second. They’ll be paying for a quality of service, for having wireless everywhere in their home.

Let’s say I move into a new home and, for the sake of argument, there are 100 units in the building, and on the odd-numbered floors you put the gateways into the odd-numbered units and on the even-numbered floors you put them into the even-numbered units.

If I move into an odd-numbered unit on even-numbered floor, I call up the service provider and say, “I would like wireless services for my TV and my three mobile devices.” The provider says, “What would you like for your network ID?” and gives me a name that automatically pops up on the radios to my right and left and up and down, and I can connect in a matter of minutes. I don’t have to wait three or four days or a week for a truck to come and install it.

Service providers have also been wrestling with the prospect of becoming a dumb pipe, a provider of bandwidth alone. You’ve mentioned moving from providing a class of service to quality of service.

What does this do to address the concerns of people in the industry who want to ensure they aren’t going deeper into the technology stack where the perception is that margins might not be as good, but who want to play a role closer to the application layer of the stack where services actually touch the consumer? How does this affect that particular aspect of the problem?

Walkenhorst: We know that a certain percentage of service providers’ customers are considering taking their current video services and moving them to straight IP delivery. Now if I have a multi-dwelling unit or business premises where I have 100 customers, and I’m offering Wi-Fi services and also delivering video services, it’s very possible that I could still provide separate video set-top boxes for all 100 units, but have only 50 access points. These are independent.

But a year to 18 months from now, when major service providers will be delivering everything over IP, they’ll need to ensure there’s enough bandwidth coming into the building or into the existing gateways so that each customer can have approximately 100 megabits per second.

I don’t think it’s going to be a 100-megabit solution. I think it’s going to be a cap scenario, similar to what you have with the mobile providers. If my network is being provided by four gateways — above, below, left and right — how do I aggregate those to make sure I’m not using more than 100 megabits per second across all four of them?

I don’t think that’s the right paradigm to solve.

The right paradigm is to ensure there’s enough bandwidth in all of those units to deliver enough for the building and make sure nobody uses too much bandwidth. That’s a policy discussion.

It reminds me of the trunk-line scenario in the early days of the analog world, where the telco would create a cap by the number of trunks that went into a particular facility. Is that a correct analogy?

Walkenhorst: It is, but we could also apply that to how mobile operators provide services today. If I get a mobile service and I pay for, say 20 gigabytes per month and I have an LTE device, my provider makes no guarantee that I am going to get 20, 30, 40 or 100 megabits per second to my device. It just guarantees that I’ll be able to download 20 gigabytes each month.

Looking over the short, medium and long term, what actions can be taken by the service provider community to address what represents a pretty disruptive new scenario? If I understand your time frame correctly, disruption is going to occur within the foreseeable future, one or two years.

Walkenhorst: Exactly. At Technicolor, we’ve already begun development of the next generation of wireless management. We’re calling it Wi-Fi Scaler. For us, it is Wi-Fi plus self-optimizing network, plus diagnostics to allow the service provider to see a building as an entity and not just as a collection of customers.

We’re changing the paradigm from one-to-one to a one-to-many. One access point might provide multiple SSIDs. If we take it one step further, what if I am downstairs in the gym and I am on Wi-Fi?

I can’t offer the SSIDs [Service Set Identifiers] of everyone in my building on the wireless devices providing connectivity in the gym. I need additional solutions. What has already been deployed in a number of places worldwide is community Wi-Fi. I can begin to build this virtual connection between being on a community network ID in the gym, or the coffee shop, but also by having a VPN back to my home so I can access resources in my home.

For example, I could be in the gym and print a document that’s ready when I walk into my home after the gym. There are multiple ways to do this, and it’s not overly complex; it’s just about software development and delivery.

What are Technicolor’s plans to support this transition? Can you describe some of the specific areas of technology that you, as the CTO, are working on and how you see the relationship evolving between yourself and the carrier community?

Internally, our development plans started with our Wi-Fi Doctor program, our diagnostics tool. The second step is Conductor, the ability to manage the devices, connecting them to the proper radios.

The third step is to aggregate the data collected by Doctor and bundle it with an encryption solution. We already have trials and a customer running Wi-Fi Doctor. We will have Conductor out on trial within a few months, and then we can begin trials of Wi-Fi Scaler with these same customers.

Over the next couple of years, do you see a dramatic shift in the kind of services and equipment that will be installed in people’s homes?

Walkenhorst: I don’t see a huge shift. I think we will see more radios. I think we will see more 802.11ac and 802.11ax Wi-Fi technologies. I anticipate fewer primary gateways and more extenders, more wireless software-based solutions, telling the end devices which radio to connect to versus just having a one-to-one relationship.

I think that will take us through 2018. I think 2019 is going to be about the user experience, allowing the service provider to see that experience from a graphical perspective. This will let me be at the other side of the metropolitan area and still have access to my home.

Show less