Remember those futuristic predictions of domestic life we saw in movies and cartoons from the 1950s and ‘60s? All flying cars, robot servants, and remote-controlled everything. While there were varying degrees of (in)accuracy about them, there is one thing they all inadvertently got right: No wires. Everything and everybody connected and controlled through thin air.
Connected homes are still in their infancy, yet every modern home already depends heavily on wireless connectivity. As our future catches up with past predictions, our dependence on in-home WiFi is growing exponentially. And so those providing our in-home WiFi better deliver!
Major trends to watch
So, what are the trends that service providers need to watch to keep their customers satisfied and, more importantly, loyal?
Homeowners are clearly enjoying the convenience, potential cost savings, and potential environmental benefits of home automation. New products and services are hitting the market at a growing rate, from nice-to-have heating, lighting, and grocery apps to life-enhancing medical analysis and aging-in-place services. In fact, the global smart home market is expected to grow at around 12% per year to reach $135.3 billion by 2025. While home automation may not drive an explosion in the consumption of broadband capacity, it will cement the need for reliable service delivery and stable, ubiquitous WiFi throughout the home.
The major trends that are underpinning explosions in bandwidth growth, all born out of society’s transition into the ultra-high-definition (UHD) era thanks to the democratization of low-cost UHD electronics, are:
- UHD video streaming
- UHD gaming as a service (XBOX Game Pass)
- UHD virtual and augmented reality applications that are consistently pushing bandwidth consumption to record levels.
With the typical XBOX Series X or PS5 frequently increasing households’ monthly broadband consumption by over a terabyte, any weaknesses -- from the content provider’s peering point, across the service providers core and access network, and ultimately over the in-home WiFi network -- are exposed more quickly and more prominently now than at any other time in history. With gigabit-capable broadband access available in many countries, it is now the in-home network that is being exposed as the bottleneck, throttling a customer’s ability to consume, undermining the consumer experience of these new UHD services, and often unfairly damaging the reputation of the service provider delivering reliable broadband services.
Alongside the abandonment of Ethernet ports on almost all connectable consumer electronics, and as more of our electronics benefit from increased sophistication via augmentation from smart home apps and cloud connectivity, only WiFi can meet customers’ growing connectivity needs.
More than ever before, customers are relying on their broadband network to be connected. With rapid adoption of work-from-home and learning from home, mission critical networks have taken on new meaning. What’s more, as smart home applications continue to pass from useful to essential, WiFi connectivity must provide more than just bandwidth. It must abandon its best-effort roots to become the mission-critical network that protects, entertains, and educates our societies.
This is where service providers come into their own. As purveyors of fiber access delivery, they have an experience, expertise, and reputation that can extend to the in-home network. Broadband providers have an opportunity to offer a managed WiFi service that delivers the quality-of-service customers will increasingly demand. Firstly, that means advanced performance characteristics; not just gigabit WiFi capability throughout the home, but with the reliability and security that essential smart home services will need. Secondly, service providers will need to own connectivity all the way to the device in order to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot in-home connectivity issues. This, of course, raises privacy concerns. But here again, broadband providers have a unique value proposition by using network slicing and secure tunnels to protect data traffic.
Managing a managed service
Inversely, broadband providers are becoming increasingly reliant upon complex infrastructures and multi-cloud environments, connected through a mesh of networks. But modern network demands create new challenges for internet service providers (ISPs). Today, operational complexity is increasing exponentially as traffic continues to explode and new devices proliferate. Rising operational costs and slower time-to-revenue are squeezing margins for traditional service providers. To keep pace, teams need to start moving away from manual efforts and start harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to drive automation and self-healing networks. To succeed with AI and ML, ISPs must have full network visibility.
When traffic spikes occur on today’s networks, it can be a gargantuan challenge to determine the cause, ranging from a new video game release to widespread streaming of national events, to even distributed DDoS attacks. Using machine learning algorithms, broadband providers can interpret vast amounts of network traffic behavior data to predict performance issues before subscribers are affected. Additionally, AI and ML intelligently analyze and adapt, providing immediate security during DDoS attacks and increased bandwidth to support traffic surges.
The only way for broadband operators to deliver the stability and cost-effectiveness that their budgets demand is to make their operations more predictive, proactive, and automated. Recognizably, this will take the tedious job of data mining out of the equation, enabling a focus on proactive problem resolution. As broadband providers get into more complex things, where it becomes nearly impossible to understand all the network correlations or how they correlate, that's when AI comes in to help draw the correlation in a fraction of the time it would take network operations teams. The introduction of AI and ML technologies will self-configure, monitor, manage, correct, defend, and analyze with little human intervention, providing more time for broadband providers to innovate their business.
Becoming the perfect partner
By owning a trusted, reliable in-home connection all the way to every device in the household, a broadband operator becomes the perfect partner for smart home services, from utilities to security to healthcare providers. Broadband providers usually get blamed for poor WiFi, whether or not it’s their fault. In providing an exceptional in-home WiFi experience, there are immediate gains to be made through customer loyalty, decreased churn, and increased ARPU. And by going further, creating an in-home network that is uniquely positioned to serve the smart home of the future, broadband providers can become the only game in town.
Ultimately, as with electricity, the broadband service provider and the WiFi they provide need to disappear into the background. Things need to work when consumers go to use them, and the need for the consumer to intervene in the network must go away. Importantly, broadband providers need to invest in AI and ML for proactive network resolution. The electrical utilities do not depend on consumers to maintain a stable network, and nor should credible service providers.
Cloud control of the in-home WiFi environment is going to be a foundational element as we pass through this next era of ubiquitous UHD-ready connectivity.
As the world continues to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, customers are relying on their connected home to be more than just a place where their devices are smart. The modern home has become the connection to the world. The role that internet connectivity plays in sustaining operations across the board that help customers live, work, learn, and play have become mission critical. Importantly, the impact of COVID-19 has also fueled the adoption of technology in various sectors with historically small ramp up, such as telemedicine. The rise of digital technology has been dramatic, promising changes that are here to stay. Broadband operators should take this an opportunity to invest in defining the future network.
Sean Robertson is a product marketing manager for ADTRAN. He is a seasoned SaaS marketer with a passion for building and bringing to market products in emerging categories.