BT shows off its shiny new Nokia silicon

UK telco BT is one of the first customers for Nokia’s catchily-named 7750 SR-14s IP routing platform, which features its special FP4 chip.

Nokia first announced all this shiny new core gear a couple of years ago, but it looks like the sales cycle for this sort of thing is fairly protracted. So this is an important deal win for Nokia, but perhaps even more so for BT as it’s a clear statement of intent when it comes to investing in its core network. Apparently traffic through the BT network is growing by 40% annually so it needs to show it can handle it.

“BT’s FTTP footprint is growing on a daily basis, and we are launching 5G this year in the busiest parts of 16 of the UK’s busiest cities,” said Howard Watson, BT Group CTIO. “These technologies create an amazing customer experience, and drive people to watch more, play more and share more. We have to stay ahead of the massive traffic growth that this will bring, and Nokia are a key part of that, giving us the capacity and automation that we need.”

“Nokia’s 7750 SR-s platform, based on our FP4 silicon, will offer BT’s network the enhanced capabilities and automation needed to address continuously mounting capacity demands as it moves toward 5G,” said Sri Reddy, Co-President of IP/Optical Networks at Nokia. “Our exclusive partnership will allow BT’s converged core network to grow, and move to a programmable, insight-driven network architecture, creating a platform for BT’s growth to continue as demand for its services in FTTP and 5G expands.”

As you can see there’s a fair bit of buzzword-dropping in the canned quotes. The significance of FTTP and 5G in this context essentially amounts to the fact that network traffic is likely to keep growing rapidly for quite a while. For Nokia this is a juicy deal win in a core network market that, admittedly, is largely denied to one of its biggest competitors.

Vodafone turns to wifi innovation to bolster broadband business

Vodafone has announced the launch of a new smart home network which it hopes will address a frustration of many consumers around the world; suspect wifi.

The new routers will not only allow for extenders to be placed around the house, potentially eliminating not-spots hidden in various rooms, but cloud-based algorithms will allow for more dynamic and intelligent allocation of connectivity resources.

“We know that the vast majority of people’s broadband issues are actually down to poor Wi-Fi signals in their homes – around a quarter of calls into customer care are about Wi-Fi issues,” said Ahmed Essam, Vodafone Group’s Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer. “Super WiFi is a simple way to address these problems and give our customers the best possible connection in every room of their house, every day of the week.”

As it stands, most broadband routers are pretty dumb devices. Bandwidth is split evenly to the devices which are connected to the router, irrelevant as to what the devices are doing. In this ‘dumb’ world, your TV which might be streaming a HD movie, will be allocated the same amount of bandwidth as a laptop which is only checking emails. Its not a very efficient way to do connectivity.

Cloud-based self-learning algorithms mean the network is constantly improving over time, adjusting automatically to deliver the best possible connection to each type of device, whether it is a mobile, laptop or connected TV. This makes a lot of sense when you consider the difference in checking WhatsApp and watching Stranger Things, while the equation might become a little bit more complicated with the connected revolution gathering momentum.

The introduction of smart speakers and energy meters might just be the beginning. While the idea of a connected fridge has been around for years, with a supporting ecosystem quickly emerging behind the products, there might be a bigger appetite for such futuristic living. With more devices fighting for connectivity attention from the router, this might be a solution. The ‘dumb’ status quo, putting the TV and the fridge on par, is clearly not a good option.

This is certainly a good move forward for Vodafone, and we look forward to the routers coming to the UK in the next couple of months, with the Spaniards getting the attention first and foremost.

Mesh wifi goes mainstream as Amazon acquires Eero

Amazon’s push into the connected home took another step with the acquisition of mesh wifi specialist Eero.

Mesh wifi has been put forward as the next generation of wifi router technology, which uses multiple nodes to not only resolve coverage issues but also create an electronic map of the home such that your interaction with the network can have a positional element. Qualcomm has been bigging up mesh for a while and Samsung has gone big on it in the US, where it seems to have the greatest consumer adoption.

Eero seems to be one of the more established players over there, so its acquisition by Amazon has raised some eyebrows. It’s perceived as a clever move by Amazon to augment its connected home drive that is focused around its Alexa smart speaker devices. On the flip side there is some disquiet at the prospect of a popular independent tech brand being hoovered up by one of the giants.

“We are incredibly impressed with the Eero team and how quickly they invented a wifi solution that makes connected devices just work,” said Dave Limp, SVP of Amazon Devices and Services. “We have a shared vision that the smart home experience can get even easier, and we’re committed to continue innovating on behalf of customers.”

“From the beginning, Eero’s mission has been to make the technology in homes just work,” echoed Nick Weaver, CEO of Eero. “We started with wifi because it’s the foundation of the modern home. Every customer deserves reliable and secure wifi in every room. By joining the Amazon family, we’re excited to learn from and work closely with a team that is defining the future of the home, accelerate our mission, and bring eero systems to more customers around the globe.”

Coincidentally another major mesh specialist – Plume – has just announced a partnership with UK ISP TalkTalk, to launch some kind of invitation-only early access to its technology. “Since launching Plume in the US, we’ve received a tremendous amount of interest from the UK,” said Sri Nathan, Head of Business Development at Plume. “We are thrilled to deliver a new level of personalisation, connectivity, and security in the home to TalkTalk subscribers.”

The migration of mesh technology into the mainstream is likely to prompt a fresh round of hand-wringing about data privacy. Amazon is already installing listening devices into people’s homes, now it will be offering a wifi system that knows where you are all the time. People are going to get freaked out by the prospect of a tech giant having access to so much personal information, so Amazon has created a fresh PR challenge with this move.

Samsung launches mesh-based wifi system in the US

The US arm of Samsung has gone all-in on wifi mesh technology with the launch of the SmartThings System.

The main feature of wifi mesh technology is to fill wifi coverage not-spots around the house. Rather than use multiple routers or powerline networking, which don’t dynamically switch to the strongest source depending on your location, mesh promises strong coverage throughout the home through a number of wifi boosting nodes.

“As more people embrace a connected lifestyle, we’re focused on creating the best experiences so they can get more out of their smart home,” said SK Kim, Senior Director, IoT Product Marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “SmartThings Wifi is an intelligent solution that adapts to the many devices in the home, with mesh capability to eliminate coverage gaps plus a built-in SmartThings Hub to easily monitor and control hundreds of compatible smart products.”

Unsurprisingly the system uses Qualcomm chips integrated by Plume. Samsung goes on at considerable length about how great Plume’s wifi AI is, which actively tinkers with things to make sure everything’s cool. As Qualcomm recently explained to us, this tech also does other cool stuff like being able to detect where you are in the house, which could open the door to all sorts of other smart home applications.

The SmartThings 3-pack retails for $279.99 and the single device retails for $119.99. It’s not yet known when Samsung plans to launch these products globally, but if it manages to flog a few in the US, the rest of the world will presumably follow before long.

Wifi mesh technology could kick-start the smart home

An emerging technology designed to create a seamless domestic connectivity experience could create a bunch of other opportunities, according to Qualcomm Atheros.

We spoke to Irvind Ghai, VP of Product Management at Qualcomm Atheros, at a briefing in London. After covering the recent announcements of some new 5G NR small cells and a collaboration with Facebook over its Terragraph FWA project, we moved onto wifi, which is one of the areas Ghai’s bit of Qualcomm focuses on.

One of the most interesting concepts we covered was wifi mesh, which involves installing multiple (typically three) wifi nodes in the house to extend the range of a router. Unlike current fixes such as wireline wifi extenders, a mesh has additional cleverness that enables your connected devices to dynamically hand over between nodes depending on which provides the best signal.

The really clever bit, however, lies on some of the ancillary stuff this technology enables. Of greatest interest to CSPs could be a radar-like ability to map the interior of the home, which enables localised responses to voice commands. For example you could say “lights on” when you’re in the kitchen and the smart home system would only turn the lights on in the kitchen.

In fact these sorts of systems can apparently support their own voice UI systems and, such is the precision of this domestic radar that it can also support things like gesture UI. On top of that it can detect when doors and windows are open, so it seems to offer lots of tools for CSPs to fashion into a compelling smart home proposition if they can just get their acts together.

Ghai told us that mesh products already account for 40% of the US domestic wifi market and pointed to vendors such as Plume (mesh nodes pictured above), which make small, unobtrusive nodes that can be discretely placed around the house. You can see some of Ghai’s slides below and if wifi mesh delivers as advertised it could be a significant technology for the development of the smart home.

Qualcomm wifi 1

Qualcomm wifi 2

Qualcomm wifi 3

Qualcomm wifi 4

Can broadband keep up with the multi-screen family?

The Broadband World Forum 2017 event opened with a panel discussion on the readiness of fixed line infrastructure to meet future challenges.

As ever, especially on the consumer side, broadband connectivity challenges focus largely on the ‘last mile’. Most developed countries are doing a decent job of installing a fibre backbone, but extending that all the way to the home – FTTH – is another matter entirely. BBWF is typically the place where technologies like G.fast get their annual moment in the spotlight as telcos fret over sating our voracious appetite for lovely data.

Gary McLaren, CTO of the Hong Kong Broadband Network, raised an interesting point in relation to Hong Kong, but which can probably be applied to much of the rest of the world too. One of the things really driving demand for bandwidth isn’t just OTT video, or even higher resolutions, but the fact the people increasingly consume that video on personal screens.

This is certainly true of the Telecoms.com household, where Mrs Telecoms.com and the little Telecoms.coms each get to satisfy their unique, and often highly questionable, viewing tastes via tablets or whatever. The result is often four or more separate video streams being demanded of the network.

Apparently in Hong Kong it’s not uncommon for families, even when sat around the same dinner table, to still be in their own little televisual worlds. We draw the line at that at the Telecoms.com dining table but are conscious of swimming against the cultural current. What happened to the good old days when we all sat together and watched the same screen without interacting with each other eh? It’s shocking what the world is coming to, we’ll be forgetting how to talk next, you mark my words.

Another issue this discussion raised was the wifi router as a significant broadband customer pain-point. With all these video streams flying about the place a dodgy router can seriously mess with the user experience. It’s all very well having gigabit speed coming into the house but if it struggles to make that final journey to the device, the punter will still be unhappy and will probably blame their CSP.

Panel moderator Ronan Kelly of Adtran, and President of the FTTH Council Europe, noted that until a year or two ago CSPs figured the router was the customer’s problem, since they’d done their bit and served the home with lashings of juicy bandwidth. But now they’ve realised it’s in their interests to ensure the entire connectivity experience is as satisfying as possible so they’re taking the whole router and managed wifi issue a bit more seriously.

We never really got round to answering the stated premise of the panel: will we be ready for 2020? But it was an interesting chat nonetheless and reminded us that for all the talk of G.fast, FTTx and FWA, the ultimate aim is to provide an experience so good that end-users don’t even need to think about their broadband provider, let alone moan about them.

BBWF 2020 panel

Nokia launches its own wifi routers

More than mere routers, Nokia’s ‘carrier-grade, in-home wifi solution’ is positioned as a cure for the CSP broadband blues.

Nokia reckons a combination of its small cell expertise and Broadcom’s BCM4363 WLAN chipset (featuring Air-IQ spectrum management technology) results in a router portfolio that will out-perform most of those currently being served up by CSPs. Air-IQ apparently helps reduce the interference between multiple wifi signals which, we’re told, is one of the main reasons for dodgy wifi performance.

“Everyone knows how tedious malfunctioning wifi networks can be,” said Federico Guillèn, president of Nokia Fixed Networks. “People demand instant connectivity and perfect coverage throughout their homes. Nokia in-home wifi delivers just that. Nokia wifi will be a great tool for service providers to increase customer loyalty and focus on new revenue streams. As they lease the central home gateway and have a trusted relationship with subscribers, they have a key role to play in delivering the Digital Home.”

“Broadcom is excited to partner with Nokia to bring to market the unique advantages of Air-IQ technology,” said Greg Fischer, GM of Broadband Carrier Access at Broadcom. “Wifi is becoming a managed service offering at many broadband operators around the world and, as a result, the unique insight provided by Air-IQ becomes essential to ensure best-in-class performance while minimizing total cost of ownership.”

In other Nokia news the Finnish vendor appears to be going for the ‘most arcane sequence of acronyms shoe-horned into one baffling sentence’ record. The age-old R-PHY vs R-MACPHY debate is over, we’re told, thanks to Nokia’s vDAA virtualizing the CMTS – vCMTS Anywhere – and enabling cable operators to flexibly and cost effectively upgrade their DOCSIS network. And not a moment too soon, we might add.

Guillén himself decided to join in the record-breaking fun. “Nokia is changing the game in the cable industry with a vDAA solution that gives operators the flexibility to support both Remote-PHY and Remote-MACPHY approaches,” he said. “While running the vCMTS on the node as part of a Remote-MACPHY deployment will garner the most significant savings in cost, space and power, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Nokia’s enhanced cable solution gives operators the flexibility to choose from a full range of options across both fiber and cable to meet their unique network needs.”

And he wasn’t done there. Perhaps warming up for the next MWC, Nokia decided to bestow three press releases on us in close succession. The last announcement concerned a few tweaks to its Intelligent Access domestic broadband portfolio, which includes the router stuff mentioned earlier.

“The technologies, nodes, traffic and services needed to support today’s ultra-broadband requirements are adding significant complexity to the network and those who can master this complexity the fastest will come out ahead,” said Guillén. “Nokia is providing operators with a smarter approach to fixed access that combines the intelligent application of technology with the intelligence of the network to help make broadband networks faster, better and smarter.”

At the same time Nokia whacked out a bunch of new videos promoting its Intelligent Access proposition, some of which already have view-counts in the hundreds. Here’s one of them, which for some reason doesn’t feature Guillén. Maybe he was knackered from writing all those quotes.