By BÃ¼lent Ã‡elebi, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder, AirTies
Wi-Fi device numbers are exploding just as broadband speeds increase by leaps and bounds, with hundreds of megabits now being delivered to the doorstep. Consumers rely ever more on Wi-Fi for that final hop to their mobile devices but wireless is failing to match those fixed broadband speeds and that is in large part due to issues relating to the clients and their movement within the home. Mobile client-related Wi-Fi performance problems are common everywhere but particularly acute in high rise Multi Dwelling Unit (MDU) settings such as Singapore or New York City. Steel reinforced concrete walls combined with a high density of mobile clients creates a very challenging wireless environment.
One hidden issue is whatâ€™s called â€˜Sticky clientsâ€™. Thanks to a Wi-Fi protocol dating back as far as 1997, at the start of a session the mobile device connects to a network and Wi-Fi AP (access point), also choosing between the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands when both are available. This decision is usually based only on signal strength and furthermore devices stick to the AP they initially latched onto as they move around the house.
This might be all right if the devices were static and did not roam at all, but means that as they move around connections are no longer optimal. You have a device at one end of the building still connected to the original AP at the other, which has the effect of consuming much of the Wi-Fi airtime capacity and degrading the performance of all other devices even if they are connected in high signal strength rooms. In our testing at AirTies we found that moving a laptop equipped with the latest 3X3 11ac chips from the same room as the router to the far end of the apartment reduced the total Wi-Fi network capacity by as much as 92%. Therefore performance for all devices was severely degraded.
A while ago we identified the fundamental issue as being that mobile devices have no knowledge of the network or the optimal paths through it, which results in poor decisions being made at the outset. The situation gets worse as the mobile device moves around the home, since the optimal path constantly changes and yet there is no mechanism for responding to that dynamically in real time.
AirTies developed Client Steering technology to tackle these issues at their root. Client Steering extends the Wi-Fi performance and reliability capabilities that AirTies already had with our Mesh technology. A Mesh combines multiple APs into a resilient multipath structure. With the latest generation of routers and gateways, as we saw, offers two choices of wireless bands, 5GHz and 2.4GHz, so there are two possible paths. Adding a dual-band mesh point increases that to four paths, while deploying our common 3-device mesh yields six radio paths that the mobile client can connect with. This gives a much broader set of steering & routing options to optimize the total performance of the Wi-Fi network.
When mesh is enabled APs, or mesh nodes, communicate with each other. However when combined with our new Client Steering technology, the network itself chooses the best path for each active device and connects the device invisibly, then updates that choice periodically (typically every two seconds). Beyond signal strength, deciding on the best AP also requires determining which AP is actually delivering the stream the consumer wants, so in some instances the optimal path may not be the closest AP with the strongest signal. A key innovation here is that there is no need for an App or client software since Client Steering is executed entirely by the network, which means that it will work with all Wi-Fi connected devices no matter how old.
Our Wi-Fi Mesh technology has already been successfully deployed with premier operators in Europe and elsewhere. Now Mesh combined with Client Steering is in field trials with SingTel in Singapore and has received strong interest from top-tier operators in the US and Europe. We anticipate that it will make a major contribution towards premium Wi-Fi services capable of delivering the full range of media and communication services, such as multiple HDTV (and soon 4K) streams, that consumers already expect to receive over direct broadband connections.