Broadband and TV service providers can earn themselves an extra EUR 3-10 per month with a super-charged Wi-Fi offering that has recently arrived in Europe – and this could be just the start of the ARPU boost using a platform that draws upon cloud intelligence to introduce advanced Wi-Fi centric services. Individual guest passwords and granular parental control are two of the features deployed today, and AI-enabled IoT cybersecurity has just been launched.
The EUR 3-10 figure is based on real deployments that use the self-optimising, adaptive Wi-Fi solution from U.S. vendor Plume. The firm claims Comcast has raised ARPU by $8 a month in homes taking the technology while Bell Canada went to market with a $5 per month charge. Tele2 in the Netherlands is another Plume customer, charging EUR 5 for an improved Wi-Fi offer. In the UK, subscribers are paying TalkTalk £9 a month in a limited roll-out to invited consumers.
With Plume, consumers can install tri-band or dual-band adaptive Wi-Fi access points, called SuperPods and PowerPods respectively, which can be spread around the home. These make intelligent use of the wireless bandwidth available, moving devices from one channel to another to find the frequencies with least congestion. The system understands client device needs and can therefore optimise performance for everything from smartphones to connected televisions.
Smart services are layered onto the resulting high-performance Wi-Fi network. The new HomePass feature means the home owner can give guests their own individual Wi-Fi passwords that can be timed-out after an hour or at the end of the day, or never. Plume believes this is an important security step as we move from using Wi-Fi primarily to access the Internet and watch multiscreen video to enabling our smart thermostats, home security cameras, door entry systems and other smart home functions.
Thus, the babysitter can have their own password and the double-glazing salesman that you never see again gets a one-off access code to your LAN. People who let their home for a week via Airbnb would be obvious beneficiaries.
Fahri Diner, CEO at Plume, says some people look to protect their wireless home by creating a second Wi-Fi network, but as more SSIDs are used you create what is called ‘beaconing’ traffic, and when that is combined with the likely growth of multi access point homes (i.e. where Wi-Fi is powered through more than one device) you start eating into wireless capacity. This is a problem in multi-dwelling buildings. HomePass is considered a much more elegant solution. Different people can be given access to different devices, too – thus a guest might have access to the wireless printer but not to the wider IoT device ecosystem.
Another key service layer is AI-enabled cybersecurity for the smart home/IoT world. Plume enables service providers to complement their dynamic Wi-Fi networks with a fully managed security service that understands normal device connections and behaviours and recognises and investigates any unusual activity. So, if your in-home intruder camera connects to a completely new server on the Internet, or starts uploading or downloading more than normal, this is flagged.
Hackers are not going to start streaming your home affairs onto Twitch, the company promises. The Palo Alto (California) headquartered vendor provided a demonstration recently of someone hacking a home webcam when Plume security was not enabled, then being prevented from doing this when the cybersecurity was turned on. The device under attack was also quarantined within the LAN – with the Plume app highlighting the security actions that were taken.
Even if you strip away the advanced ‘cognitive services’, this technology looks compelling. According to Diner, service providers using Plume’s dynamic Wi-Fi solution have seen their incoming customer service calls halve. “In the U.S., each call costs the operator $7-10. They are also seeing a 67% reduction in truck-rolls in the U.S. [i.e. service visits to homes to fix problems]. It costs $75-300 per visit and we are reducing them by two-thirds.”
Net promoter scores (NPS) – one of the main measures of whether customers are happy – are averaging more than 60 at Plume customers, Diner reports. “Most carriers have a rating near zero. Our customers are ecstatic about those scores,” he says.
One of the Wi-Fi performance advantages accredited to Plume technology is its consistent use of Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) wireless channels. These are channels that are available for domestic use but shared with radar, and they must be vacated if needed for radar.
Plume says using DFS frequencies can double wireless capacity, and in some network configurations you could quadruple capacity to some parts of the home. Plume routers are not the only ones that can use DFS, but the company claims a key differentiator for its own technology: after the Plume routers are kicked off DFS frequencies, they are quickly put back onto them. The Plume platform manages the wireless network, and so every night it checks if you still have DFS access.
“The chances that a router will stay on DFS are very low,” one Plume spokesman said recently. “At one ISP we know, only 1-1.5% of its routers stayed on DFS because they could only return there if there was manual intervention.” Fahri Diner claims that in most cases where Plume is not used, a router that gives up DFS channels stays off them permanently.
A typical 3-4 bedroom European home needs three Plume pods for best effect – and the retail cost for three of the tri-band devices is £199. These offer the fastest speeds. A 4/5 bedroom home needs four (at a retail price of £259). The dual-band PowerPods cost less.
Plume says the ROI works for a service provider even if the new access points are used primarily as Wi-Fi extenders, without advanced features like cybersecurity. Service providers can obviously choose to absorb the hardware costs into monthly charge increases.
Plume does have a direct-to-consumer business, selling its devices and service (as a membership) online, but the company is firmly focused on the service provider market. Diner believes that with Amazon and Google taking a greater physical presence in consumer homes, what he calls cognitive services is a way for operators to cement their own position. And the incumbents will no longer be competing primarily on access speeds. “The battleground is in the home and it is about who can provide these [intelligent] services fast and at scale. The fight is no longer about whose pipe is bigger or faster, or more reliable,” Diner says.
The Plume technology will work for any service provider. The self-install set-up is simple. You download the Plume app, then connect your existing router to the first Plume pod (e.g. via Ethernet), so this first pod can take over the wireless gateway function. You then plug additional pods into wall sockets around the house. Using the associated smartphone app, you discover the extra sockets and name them as they join the network. An operator can also integrate the Plume software into their own router, if they want. The Plume pods can be operator-branded, if desired.
The Plume app emphasises the fact that this is a managed Wi-Fi home service, showing you the network configuration of pods. When you click on a pod, it shows you the connection status (e.g. excellent or good, etc.) and lists the devices attached to that access point, with a separate list showing the most active devices on an access point (and the proportion of bandwidth they have used). You can see the broadband provider speeds coming into the home, broken down across 24 hours, seven days and 30 days.
You can select each device to see how much of the total bandwidth it has consumed over the last 24 hours, seven days or 30 days, and the actual data downloaded and uploaded over that period (by the device). You can see the connection speed available to the device you are currently using.
There is an option to activate ad-blocking, which is in beta. For each device, there is an option to limit what content can be streamed to it. ‘No limits’, ‘Kids appropriate’, ‘Teenager friendly’ or ‘No adult content’ are the options. Security events, like instances where content was blocked, are logged. You can schedule a freeze on Internet access on a per-device basis – e.g. to create a homework window. Both Tele2 and TalkTalk provide the HomePass custom guest password and the parental control features.
Plume guarantees privacy to consumers: device data collection is only to optimise performance or feed the app, and device activity is monitored only by machines unless it is used by customer support, with the user’s permission. You can opt out entirely from data collection (at the expense of performance).
In an example of how more ‘cognitive services’ will follow, Plume recently revealed plans for a ‘perimeter security’ feature. External security cameras can harness cloud intelligence to recognise faces, learn who the dog walkers and delivery drivers are, and perhaps their routines, then flag suspicious occurrences that do not fit usual patterns. Multiple homes using the technology could create a shared network to make this more effective on a neighbourhood level. Motion sensors and face recognition are two of the foundational technologies behind this upcoming feature.