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New routers are a welcome development, but are just one step towards Wi-Fi management

Posted by Todd Mersch on 14 November 2017

Nokia’s new Wi-Fi routers didn’t make a huge splash when they were announced—more publications paid attention to its faster operator routers earlier in the year. But while the operator routers were only notable for their increased speed, their new approach to Wi-Fi signals a new approach to the consumer market and an understanding of what consumers need—not just faster, but better.

Telecoms.com reported that the “carrier-grade in-home Wi-Fi solution” will “help reduce the interference between multiple Wi-Fi signals which is one of the main reasons for dodgy Wi-Fi performance”. Nokia also said that service providers will be able to “lease the central home gateway [to their subscribers] and have a trusted relationship with subscribers, [service providers] have a key role to play in delivering the Digital Home”. It’s good to know that our message that ISPs need to fight for their place in the home is being heard!

Like Comcast’s new gateway that offers better management of the devices connected to the network, Nokia’s move into better home Wi-Fi is exciting—but it’s just one step on the road to service providers giving their customers the Wi-Fi experience they need.

Nokia, along with other vendors such as Arris, Hitron and others, are recognising that enhancing signal strength isn’t the only way to improve performance, and are also looking to minimise interference to boost Wi-Fi performance. Most ISP marketing still uses signal strength alongside speed as the main selling point for their services, but solving congestion issues is just as important. Getting customers to understand that strength alone is not what will fix their connection issues is critical, and addressing interference and congestion issues will help relieve a lot of frustration with Wi-Fi. If customers think something provided by the ISP will fix their connection issues, and it fails to, then the ISP will be the party that gets the blame.

But while mitigating interference issues helps solve a big problem for consumers, it’s just one part of what Wi-Fi management needs to offer. Automated fault management is also key as it enables Wi-Fi routers to fix themselves and does so at operator scale. Service providers need visibility of how the network is performing, and analytics on how the network is being used, in order to better understand and positively affect the customer experience. Proactively solving issues for customers means the possibility of a better relationship, rather than just being the utility that provides a connection to the internet.

One other potential sticking point for service providers is that this is a hardware specific solution. The biggest service providers look for a diversity of supply in chipsets and equipment suppliers so that they don’t become reliant on a single vendor. Smaller providers may take up the routers to provide a short-term solution for Wi-Fi issues, but the larger providers may be wary of a one-stop shop approach.

Finally, vendor specific implementations make all the decisions on how to mitigate interference locally. A fully distributed approach fails to take advantage of a clear operator differentiator – they have visibility and control across many homes. This means a service provider solution can make decisions that benefit a whole neighbourhood. A cloud-based solution is able to make much smarter, more holistic decisions by drawing on far more information, and without the need to update firmware to patch issues and use new algorithms. A centralized approach also ensures that algorithms work effectively across access points from multiple vendors.

Despite these drawbacks, the addition of Nokia to other providers such as Plume, Eero—and of course, Google—shows that there is an increased appetite not just for better Wi-Fi, but for ISPs to optimise this part of the network just as they would any part outside of the home.

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