WiFi steering: Move over, Miss Daisy

Sept. 15, 2018
It is no secret that a service provider can provide a whopping big broadband pipe into the home, but if WiFi performance is poor, it will reflect badly on overall service. One way to improve WiFi is to utilize multiple ...

It is no secret that a service provider can provide a whopping big broadband pipe into the home, but if WiFi performance is poor, it will reflect badly on overall service. One way to improve WiFi is to utilize multiple access points (APs) to extend coverage. But Charles Cheevers, CTO customer premises equipment, ARRIS (NASDAQ:ARRS), was excited to have a headline recently that proclaimed, "Steering is sexier than mesh."

WiFi steering is the way to direct the traffic to the most appropriate band, 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz, and is done through a controller in the gateway. "Like connecting plumbing to water, our focus has been on steering the water to where it is needed," Cheevers said.

ARRIS has been building a multi-AP solution that is service provider-based, with the idea that operators need more transparency into WiFi in their customer's homes.

"Some person in the background is meant to figure out that (a customer's) WiFi (is inadequate). 'We see there is a coverage problem. Let's ship an extender,'" Cheevers said, noting that ARRIS is trying to create a mean opinion survey score (MOSS) for home WiFi.

On the mesh side, there is a need for vendor diversity and a need to be able to mix and match APs so that they can talk amongst each other. The Wi-Fi Alliance's Easy Mesh certification is intended to allow for this interoperability among vendors. ARRIS' VAP4641 was recently certified.

"In reality, we want to compete on an algorithm level and hardware differentiation, but we offer operators the chance to choose others (thanks to certification)," Cheevers.

ARRIS' HomeAssure solution incorporates its certified APs with its controller that offers 100 ms granularity. In a house with multiple APs, Facetime calls won't have to reconnect and voice calls won't drop when switching between APs, Cheevers said.

"Service providers get calls when WiFi is not working even if there is a third party (involved,)" Cheevers said.

When IP video is part of the equation, problems often are not TV-related, but WiFi-related, and customers want a quick mean-time-to-repair. With ARRIS's home solution, every point in the hexagon can see each other so that operators are able to tell where the packet is in the mesh. If devices are categorized into video, IoT, static and mobile, there are different algorithms related to managing each, and different levels of prioritization - a 4K game vs. a kid's Kindle, for example.

The controller in the gateway builds up a list of what is going on and can make the most informed decision about which AP the devices, even phones, should be utilizing, Cheevers said.

"This has been in enterprise (for years), but now we are doing it in the home," Cheevers added.