By Philippe Alcaras, CEO, AirTies
Wireless in numerous forms and use cases will be more in evidence than ever before at IBC this year, both in demonstrations on the floors and sessions in the conference. There will be many innovative technologies or devices on show, such as wireless controlled robotic cameras for remote broadcast and small tuners that receive over the air audio/video signals and then transmit them over Wi-Fi to tablets and other viewing devices. More significantly though, given that it affects far more people around the world, will be the first signs that major players in the industry, including broadcasters, pay TV operators and infrastructure vendors, are now considering the question of Wi-Fi performance at home as a key strategic enabler for their business model.
AirTies has been forecasting for several years that Wi-Fi networks in the home will inevitably fail to keep up with fast rising consumer expectations for consistent high speed Internet access in all rooms. At first operators and their vendors tended to ignore this trend, perhaps largely because they expected that wired home networking options, such as Powerline over electricity cables and MoCA over coax, would plug this gap. While such wired networks have been deployed to an extent they failed to cater for a major development in consumer Internet access, the rise of the tablet and large smartphone, which are now being used widely not just for Internet snacking but viewing longer form video as well. These devices are wireless only and so cannot readily be connected to a wired home network. As a result there is growing demand for access to premium video services over Wi-Fi even in markets such as the US where coax is widely installed in homes.
It comes as little surprise to us therefore that the pay TV industry is waking up to the reality that Wi-Fi performance issues are perhaps the major impediment to customer satisfaction now that fixed broadband speeds and reliability have improved so much. In fact one of the largest vendors in the field, Arris, gave top billing to the home Wi-Fi issue in its latest 2015 Consumer Entertainment Index, which confirmed that there is a big gap between consumer expectation and experience around the world. Almost two thirds (63%) of consumers reported some Wi-Fi performance or reliability issues with younger people recording the most, reflecting their greater use of mobile devices for all online activities including streaming video. Then 6% of consumers, still a significant number, encountered issues every time they stream or download.
The survey also found that 54% of people believe that it is â€œvitally or very importantâ€ that Wi-Fi works beyond the current range around the home and garden, even when there are no issues otherwise. The expectation is now that Wi-Fi should not just give excellent performance in say the main living rooms and master bedroom, but anywhere the user may choose to hang out within their domain.
These results confirm our experience with customers through our deployments around the world. One key point we can add is that an average of 30% of support calls to operators are Wi-Fi related, with even higher numbers where the fixed broadband service is fastest. This reflects the fact that higher broadband speeds increase expectations but at the same time decrease the actual Wi-Fi performance experienced by users everywhere in the home.
We do not agree so much with one of that studyâ€™s conclusions, which is that there is a market opportunity for Wi-Fi extenders across the US, Canada, UK, France, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan, and Singapore in particular. This conclusion was based on the finding that 64% of users with such devices were happy with the performance obtained. But this figure is not actually that high since it means one third of people were not happy with the performance of their repeaters. So this finding really highlights that while repeaters can extend Wi-Fi coverage to parts of a building they do not solve the problem properly for the whole home, especially larger ones or those with walls that resist propagation of radio signals in the Wi-Fi bands of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
The real opportunity as we see it is for a robust and scalable solution that fixes Wi-Fi performance in the home once and for all and can remain in place as demand expands and new versions of the technology are rolled out. For this purpose AirTies has developed its Mesh technology combined with Client Steering, which between them cater for homes of all sizes and building constructions. The Mesh component replaces the traditional hub and spoke arrangement of Wi-Fi in which a single AP (Access Point) can become a choke point in the network since all data goes through it. Then Client Steering hands control over which path each client takes through the network to a central point, so that the whole domain can be optimized for the benefit of all devices rather than having individual ones effectively competing among themselves.
It is very good news not just for AirTies but for all operators around the world that the message about Wi-Fi performance is getting out at last at IBC and elsewhere. It means consumers will discover the comfort and full benefit of the internet bandwidth they are paying for, and will adopt even faster new business propositions coming from the Digital Media industry.