Boeing claims planes should be classed as indoors for connectivity

Aeronautical engineering firm Boeing has submitted a filing with the FCC arguing aircraft should be defined as indoor space to more easily permit the use of unlicensed spectrum.

The filing focuses around the use of 6 GHz unlicensed spectrum and the growing demand for in-flight connectivity. As you can imagine, delivering connectivity at almost 40,000 feet while travelling at 500 mph is somewhat of a complicated task, therefore Boeing is requesting more assistance from the FCC.

“On April 3, 2019, representative of The Boeing Company (“Boeing”) met with Commission staff to discuss the technical justifications for treating the inside of large commercial aircraft as being equivalent to indoor locations for purposes of the Commission’s rules for unlicensed devices operating in the 6 GHz band,” General Counsel Bruce Olcott wrote in the filing.

In-flight connectivity is one of the fastest growing trends in the digital era, with Deloitte predicting on billion passenger journeys, one quarter of the total, across 2018 were on aircraft equipped with gear to make the internet possible. It might still be expensive for passengers, but as momentum grows the price will certainly come down. In fact, Inmarsat predicts the in-flight connectivity market could be worth as much as $130 billion annually by 2035.

To continue this momentum, Boeing is now arguing the inside of aircraft should be technically defined as indoor locations to make unlicensed spectrum more accessible.

The argument from Boeing does sound quite logical and reasonable. The firm argues the fuselage of an aircraft provides radio signal attenuation levels, blocking the signal, of at least 17.3 dB on average in the frequency range of 6 GHz. This is effectively the same as many buildings, suggesting there will be little to no additional interference from using the spectrum.

Boeing also points out that the Federal Aviation Administration has banned the use of wireless communications below 10,000 feet. Therefore, any ground operations making use of the 6 GHz spectrum would have zero interference as the aircraft would be well out of range when at cruising speeds (38,000 feet).

When combining the remote locations of airports (for the most part) and the fuselage of an aircraft blocking any signal inside the plane, Boeing believes aircraft carriers should be permitted to offer wifi services on unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum while the plane is parked at airports and in flight.

The filing comes at a time where the FCC is considering rule changes for unlicensed spectrum in the 6 GHz band. Certain parties are supporting the idea, though AT&T and other telcos are resisting, suggesting broadband and satellite operations should remain under more stringent protection.

Back in October, the FCC Commissioners voting unanimously to expand the 6 GHz band to support next-generation wifi devices, 1,200 MHz of spectrum to be exact. Although there is risk of displacing existing devices, the FCC appears to expect minimal interference between prior and future devices, as wifi is most likely to operate indoors.

“…with the massive amount of wireless traffic that is off-loaded to wifi, opening up this wide swath of spectrum for unlicensed use could be a big boost to our nation’s 5G future,” Pai said in a statement following the decision.

Whether the FCC had in-flight connectivity as a usecase while they were drawing up these rules is uncertain, but it is certainly a trend which is worth addressing.

Spurs and HPE hope to show how stadium wifi should be done

The long-awaited new Tottenham Hotspur stadium hosts its first Premier League match today and fans might even be able to get on the wifi for once.

Stadium connectivity has long been a signature connectivity challenge, thanks mainly to the exceptionally high density of population. Despite numerous claimed advances in high capacity routers, base stations, etc, user experience in high density environments such as stadia, airports and conference venues etc has generally been rubbish.

In an attempt to address this Spurs teamed up with longtime sponsor HPE to get its Aruba arm involved in taking care of the connectivity in the new stadium. The company has kept pretty quiet since the partnership was announced a couple of years ago, but now that the doors are finally opening UK MD Marc Waters felt moved to blog on the matter.

“The ambition from Tottenham Hotspur could not have been greater,” he wrote. “To build the most technologically advanced stadium in the world with an unrivaled fan experience. Working together with a diverse set of partners they have achieved it. Aside from the lack of queues and incredible bottom filling pints of beer (oh yes), one of the first advances the fans will notice is the quality and availability of the free stadium Wi-Fi.

“Having been at Wembley recently to see Portsmouth win the EFL Trophy, I can confirm it can be challenging to get signal due to the sheer size of the crowd. At the new Spurs stadium we have installed HPE Aruba technology with 1,641 wifi access points to provide 100% wifi coverage. This delivers high density wifi coverage in the Bowl seating area thanks to an innovative “Pico cell” architecture with the wifi Access Points mounted under the seats to enable high performance connectivity to all 62,062 fans.”

That equates to one wifi node per 38 fans in a sold-out stadium, which seems like a decent ratio so long as the supporting infrastructure is up to scratch. It’s notable that Spurs has made very little noise about mobile networks, although all four UK MNOs apparently have connectivity there. If the wifi delivers and the user experience for getting onto it is acceptable (a big if) then why would you need to access your mobile network while you’re there?

That user experience will probably be dictated in part by the new app Spurs developed to accompany the new stadium, which also covers things like electronic ticketing, interactive stadium maps, etc. That will all rely on the wifi network too, so a lot is at stake with this HPE infrastructure. As Waters indicated Spurs wants its new stadium to be somewhere fans might want to hang around in long after the game is over and they won’t do so if they can’t use their phones.

 

Plume hits the UK market

Mesh wifi specialist Plume has launched itself onto the UK market, brining with it a new service which aims to make consumer IOT more secure.

After success in the US market, eyes have been cast across the pond for Plume’s subscription service which it is describing as ‘adaptive wifi’. Not only does the company promise to improve wifi signal throughout the home, it is targeting security fears which may be arising due to more devices being connected to the internet.

“The ever-increasing demand for smart home performance coupled with the proliferation of IoT devices means connectivity and security are merging and must be addressed jointly and comprehensively,” said Fahri Diner, Plume’s CEO.

“Leveraging our scale as the operator of perhaps the largest software-defined-network in the world, our learnings gathered from a vast population of connected devices uniquely positions Plume to offer the most effective anomaly-based protection of IoT devices.”

Plume claims its software detects and monitors all connected devices around the home, learning patterns of normal device behaviour across a large population of similar devices, hoping to spot abnormalities in real time and immediately act to protect users. The power of this security feature does depend on scale, having enough data from similar devices to understand normal behaviour, but it does seem to be heading that direction.

The team is not only boasting of numerous ties ups with companies such as Comcast, Bell Canada, Liberty Global, and Samsung, but by open sourcing the device software middle layer the reach is extended further. As soon as an anomaly is detected in any of the devices on the network, it is immediately quarantined to prevent the risk of spreading the threat throughout the home’s network.

The product itself looks to be a useful innovation but priced at £99 for a starter hardware pack and £99 per year thereon, it might turn off increasingly cash conscious consumers. We suspect the direct-to-consumer model might not be the most successful but bagging a couple of telco partners could be an interesting play as a value-add.

Virgin Media gives some smarts to wifi

Virgin Media has unveiled a new, ‘intelligent’, router which it claims will bring faster speeds to more areas of the home.

With the telco world becoming increasingly utilitised, and advertising authorities rightly cracking down on the ‘creative’ marketing claims, new ideas will certainly be needed to capture the attention of the increasingly demanding consumers. And in fairness to Virgin Media, this is not a bad attempt.

“Delivering ultrafast broadband to help make Britain faster is what we do best at Virgin Media but making sure this translates into reliable in-home connectivity is just as important,” said Richard Sinclair, Executive Director of Connectivity at Virgin Media

“Intelligent WiFi will allow our customers to make the most of their broadband while also helping to easily overcome any connectivity conundrums around the home. With families using more devices than ever before, it’s vital they can all be online whenever needed. Whether it’s streaming UHD movies on Netflix, playing the latest games online or video conferencing, Intelligent WiFi has your back.”

Starting with the intelligence side of the router, should the software work the way it’s supposed to, this could prove to be a very interesting addition. Firstly, Channel Optimisation allows the router to choose the least congested channel to decrease the likelihood of traffic jams. Secondly, a Band Steering feature allows devices to switch between 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency to optimise performance. Finally, Airtime Fairness suggests bandwidth will be allocated between devices depending on the demands of that device.

The term ‘intelligence’ is thrown around relatively flimsily nowadays, though should the performance of these features be at the desired level, this could prove to be a very useful product.

 

And while the ‘intelligence’ aspects are more likely to enthuse those consumers who are more geekily orientated, a new app to manage the wifi experience is answers a lot of the simple bugbears and first-world problems of connectivity.

One example is sharing wifi passwords. It might not seem like a revolutionary idea but being able to log into the app and simply send the wifi password to a friend or guest will save customers from the inevitable digging around behind the TV. This is not necessarily a feature which will win customers for Virgin Media, but enough of these little quirky features will improve the customer experience and loyalty.

Another area which the app addresses is ubiquitous connectivity. Being connectivity everywhere and all-the-time is a necessity nowadays, though consumers are becoming increasingly cash conscious. Through the app, Virgin Media customers can now connect to any Virgin Media wifi hotspots, of which there are 3.5 million around the UK.

Most importantly for Virgin Media, this take the brand outside of the customers home, and allows the company to support customers through the entire day. This is Virgin Media adding value into the customer’s lives, going beyond the assumed perimeters of a home broadband provider.

“UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data across a wide range of devices that will continue to grow over time,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “As well faster download speeds, consumers want a better and reliable connection in all parts of their home. This is starting to be a highly sought after service among users.”

BT has been playing in this market for some time, which offers Virgin Media a blueprint for success. Patchy performance and an irritating log-in process perhaps gave the BT wifi play a bad name, though progress has been made across the public wifi space in recent years. Hopefully Virgin Media will have learned these lessons.

With connectivity increasingly heading towards the dreaded limitations of utility, it is becoming increasingly important for telcos to prove they can add value to other aspects of the customers life. This is certainly an interesting play from Virgin Media and should the features work, Virgin Media goes some way in proving it is more than just a utility.

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.

Mobile performance is increasingly better than wifi – OpenSignal

Mobile analytics company OpenSignal has had a look mobile and wifi performance around the world and concluded mobile is catching up fast.

In 33 countries, according to the report, smartphone users get faster average download speeds from their mobile network than from wifi. The country with the greatest discrepancy in favour of mobile is Australia, where average speeds are 13 Mbps faster than wifi. In most countries the respective data rates seem to be pretty similar but wifi still prevails in some, including the US where it’s still 25 Mbps faster, on average.

You can see all the data in the table below and the significance of it to OpenSignal is that wifi is no longer always preferable to mobile, when it’s available. A decade ago mobile data was just a slop, expensive stopgap in between wifi hotspots for when we absolutely had to get online to check the football scores, or whatever.

Now the only reason to prefer wifi in a lot of countries is that its unmetered, but that is likely be less of a factor in the 5G era, with unlimited tariffs likely to proliferate. For that reason OpenSignal reckons operators and smartphone makers will need to have a rethink about mobile offload, to avoid prioritising lower-performance networks.

Opensignal wifi vs cellular

Wifi performance is the service provider’s problem whether they like it or not

At the Cable Next-Gen Europe event in London a panel discussed the lessons learned from offering 1 Gbps domestic broadband.

It seems like the only way the ISP industry thinks it can persuade consumers to hand over more of their hard-earned cash is to promise ever-better performance. But consumers can be an awkward bunch and have a nasty habit of expecting that promised boost to be delivered. To make things worse they’re not shy about voicing their displeasure to expensive customer service departments.

They just won’t listen to reason. You can try explaining the problem is at their end thanks to rubbish routers, decrepit devices and unhelpful walls but it falls on deaf ears. As far as they’re concerned they’ve been promised 1 Gbps, they’re not getting it and they want to know what the company that took their money is going to do about it.

The consensus among the panel, which featured ISPs, specialist wifi vendors and a big kit vendor, was that wifi is the ISP’s problem whether they like it or not. A big reason for this is that regular punters aren’t even interested in the various technical challenges involved in delivering the promised bandwidth; they only care about the end result.

Having said that there are a lot of technological solutions to this problem, such as mesh wifi as offered by companies like Plume, which was represented on the panel. Mesh looks like a good answer to coverage problems resulting from the limited range of wifi routers, physical obstructions, etc. It’s quite a trending buzzword in the industry right now but even the mesh vendors were careful not to position it as a panacea.

Similarly successive generations of wifi technology, now belatedly using a more consumer-friendly naming scheme, only address part of the problem. Even if you have a 1 Gbps service and the latest Wi-Fi 6 router, of all your devices still have 802.11g wifi chips, which is apparently still commonplace, then you’re still going to get rubbish performance.

According to a straw poll among the panel it’s not uncommon for there to be 20+ wifi connected devices in a given home, through which CSP customers will assess the quality of their service. For this reason there was a consensus that there will be an explosion in managed wifi services offered by CSPs in the near future.