The Challenges of Serving a Variety of Home Environments
Internet Service Providers’ customers expect a Wi-Fi network that delivers:
- Perfect Coverage
- Sufficient Capacity
- Great Performance
What each of these means in terms of measurable and manageable indicators, however, is entirely subjective.
Since the release of the base version of the Wi-Fi standard 802.11 in 1997, each subsequent release has improved in coverage, capacity, and performance. Unfortunately, the variety of environments that each service provider serves is huge, resulting in complexities not easily addressed.
Home environments vary in many ways that affect Wi-Fi coverage and capacity, including:
- Geophysical conditions: Walls, steal, trees, objects - all affect the propagation of a radio signal
- Density: The physical proximity of various consumers to each other
- Interference: Home devices such as microwaves, cordless phones, baby monitors may all be using and interfering with the same frequencies as the Wi-Fi signal.
- Device proliferation: The number of concurrent devices that need to be served.
- Service Mix: Various Wi-Fi enabled services have different needs - high capacity, sensitivity to lag (e.g. video) or high volume, low data rate (e.g. IoT devices).
These issues are just a few among many that can negatively impact Wi-Fi connectivity experience and lead to customer dissatisfaction. For these reasons, Wi-Fi has become a leading source of ‘trouble tickets’ for operators, accounting for high operational costs in the call center and customer service departments.
Additionally, service providers and end-users, are expecting the hardware installed at home to be built to last and avoid equipment replacement, displacement or supplementation as much as possible. This may become a very challenging task specifically for wireless networks as new services may require different performance (capacity and coverage) than those that the installed hardware was originally designed for.
Understanding service providers’ pain poses a real opportunity for Access Point (AP) OEMs to improve their product offering and increase their profitability.
Operators are, on the one hand, expected to provide top-notch equipment and provide consistent service in inconsistent environments, while on the other hand, extremely cost conscious aiming to meet competitive service costs and revenue targets. Achieving the performance goals and network flexibility without over-engineering the home Wi-Fi network is a challenge, and AP OEM providers that can remedy this will be favored.
The Current State of Wi-Fi Deployment Policy: Static Dual MAC MIMO
Based on today’s available Wi-Fi AP equipment, OEMs and operators are often constrained by today’s engineering paradigms and need to specify each of the Wi-Fi bands independently. This often results in compromises or multiple models of AP equipment to meet various service assumptions and deployments needs. To be able to provide the right mix of coverage, capacity, and performance in different home environments, service providers needs to predict far in advance the proper configuration of each Wi-Fi band. When a certain deployment environment or desired service mix requires a different balance, Hardware can and commonly does fail to deliver.
Simply, maintaining multiple AP models for various deployments or service needs is costly, cumbersome and impractical, not only in terms of holding inventory, but also in training, support, and maintenance.
As service providers are limiting the number of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) held in their inventory, they need to successfully predict at least a couple of years in advance, which combination of antennas and capabilities per band must be ordered from their AP manufacturer. In today's rapidly evolving consumer market - this would require a crystal ball.
Software Defined Elastic MIMO™ as a Remedy for Variety of Service Environments
The next step in advanced Wi-Fi chipsets is offered by empowering the service providers with the flexibility and freedom to dynamically manage the exact mix of post-deployment antennas per band, meeting deployment and service needs. This functionality is referred to as Elastic MIMO™.
In the following diagram, blue represents 2.4GHz coverage of an AP and yellow is 5GHz coverage.
APs using a chipset that supports Elastic MIMO™ can offer dynamic real-time per band MIMO assignments and, therefore, with a single device type, serve multiple deployments and environment types to adapt in real-time to their ever-changing service needs.
Considering the following scenarios.
- Bandwidth-hungry devices streaming video
- Wearable IoT devices roaming on the street from AP to AP
In the first scenario, more antennas are required at 5GHz due to its higher capacity in short range. In the second, 2.4GHz antennas will better serve the need. With Elastic MIMO™, a specific AP can automatically adapt its MIMO configuration in real-time to optimize performance.
Benefits of Elastic MIMO™ for the service provider
When Service Providers are equipped with APs based on Elastic MIMO™ technology, they will be able to SW-configure antenna allocation per deployment or per-deployment type.
This will be a significant change compared to current rigid HW-defined systems that limit their options with ‘under- or over-engineered’ home networks, resulting in unsatisfied customers and impractical operational costs.
By using a self-adapting configurable AP to optimize each deployment type, service providers benefit from higher customer satisfaction due to improvements in coverage, capacity, and performance. This will improve the user experience and at the same time, is expected to lower the overall call center and support costs, because clients will have fewer complaints.
Using a single AP to serve multiple environments will also result in fewer SKUs for the service provider, improving their operational efficiency.
Having software control over the antenna allocation per band allows agility and simple adaptations for new services.
Allowing the service provider flexibility in how each AP is configured actually extends the product lifespan, directly translating to improved business profitability.
The Business Opportunity for AP Suppliers introduced by Elastic MIMO™
Just like service providers, AP OEMs don’t "own a crystal ball". Nobody can tell exactly which new services will be in highest demand years from now, which is the time it can take to design, develop, and manufacture a new AP. Hence, by the time it’s ready for market - the market needs will likely have evolved. Having an AP that is software-defined, and can have as many antennas as needed for each band, dedicated to supporting the new needs as they arise in real time - is a huge contributor to lowering the AP providers’ risk and gaining better ‘Product-Market-fit’!
The service providers will appreciate the lower TCO (total cost of ownership) advantage introduced by Elastic MIMO™ and for sure this appreciation will be translated into more wins for the AP provider that can offer this flexibility.