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 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.
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 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.
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.
Today’s consumer is demanding but disinterested. They don’t care about mobile or broadband or wifi, just top-line connectivity. To meet these demands, BT has pointed to network convergence.
Speaking at Broadband World Forum, Howard Watson, BT’s CTIO, outlined the bigger picture. It’s all about convergence where the dividing lines between wireless and fixed or hardware and software are blurred, with connectivity is viewed as a single concept, bringing together network design, technology convergence and customer insight to create a single software-orientated network for device neutral connectivity.
“For the consumer, it’s not about their wifi, or their mobile connection, or their fixed broadband, or even their landline,” said Watson. “It’s about connectivity as a whole. And I’m pleased to say we’re already making strong progress here.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a telco conference without mentioning 5G, and this is a critical component of the BT story. Trials have already begun in East London, though over the next couple of days 10 additional nodes will be added to expand the test. Plans are already underway to launch a converged hardware portfolio, introduce IP voice for customers and create a seamless wifi experience. All of this will be built on a single core network.
But what does this mean for the consumer? Simplicity in the simplest of terms.
The overall objective is to create a seamless connectivity experience which underpins the consumer disinterest in anything but being connected. Soon enough, devices will be able to automatically detect and select the best connectivity option, whether it is wifi or cellular for example, essentially meaning consumers will not have to check anything on their devices. Gone will be the days where you have to worry about your device clinging onto weak wifi signal or being disrupted by a network reaching out to your device, according to Watson. Signing in will become a distant memory as the consumer seamlessly shift from wifi to mobile.
This is of course a grand idea, and there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. Public wifi is pretty woeful as a general rule, and mobile connectivity is patchy in some of the busiest and remotest regions in the UK, but in fairness to BT, it does look like a sensible and well thought out plan.
With telcos becoming increasingly utilitised, these organizations need to start adding value to the lives of the consumer. Connectivity is not enough anymore, as it has become a basic expectation not a luxury in today’s digitally-defined society; providing the seamless experience might just be one way BT can prove its value. Fortunately, with its broadband footprint, EE’s mobile network and 5000 public wifi spots throughout the UK, BT is in a strong position to make the converged network dream a reality.
The supremely geeky 802.11 brand almost certainly alienates regular punters so the decision has belated been made to change it.
For some reason the only way we have had of differentiating generations of wifi technology to date has been to write down 802.11 and then stick some letters after it. Understandably this has failed to resonate with the mass market and therefore presumably made it difficult to offer the latest generation as a unique selling point to baffled potential router buyers.
The current best version of wifi on offer is 802.11ax, which was preceded by the equally catchy 802.11ac. It’s not like there’s even much of rationale to the naming – what happened to 802.11ad-aw? And before that we had 802.11n…WTF? So now we’re getting a simple numerical progression, culminating in ‘Wi-Fi 6’ to represent 802.11ax. It even has a logo.
“For nearly two decades, wifi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest wifi,” said Edgar Figueroa, CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and wifi users easily understand the wifi generation supported by their device or connection.”
You may have noticed that the Telecoms.com house style is to write wifi in its simplest form, that’s because writing ‘Wi-Fi’ all the time is a pain. We call upon the Wi-Fi alliance to stop mucking about with grammar and punctuation, seeing as it’s suddenly so keen on simplifying stuff. Loads of other people felt compelled to say stuff about this move. It’s probably all just generic white noise but it only takes a second to copy and paste so here they are.
“Aerohive enthusiastically supports Wi-Fi Alliance’s new consumer-friendly Wi-Fi 6 naming convention in support of the emergence of IEEE’s new 802.11ax technology. Wi-Fi Alliance is now providing consumers the same type of generational Wi-Fi naming conventions to match what cellular technology has done since the beginning. Wi-Fi technology has evolved and improved over the last 21 years – from only a few megabits to several Gigabit speeds – yet this information is currently not provided. With Wi-Fi 6, consumers can easily identify the level of Wi-Fi provided and demand superior services. Additionally, we look forward to Wi-Fi Alliance’s launch of their Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ certification program next year, and will submit our latest generation of Aerohive devices for certification at the first opportunity.” – Perry Correll, product management director, Aerohive Networks
“AirTies commends Wi-Fi Alliance for simplifying Wi-Fi naming conventions and making them more consumer friendly. We look forward to using the term Wi-Fi 6, instead of 802.11ax, and educating our customers about the next-generation of Wi-Fi services and capabilities.” – Metin Taskin, CTO of AirTies
“Wi-Fi has evolved significantly since Aruba was founded 16 years ago – from its initial role as a secondary network within the enterprise enabling mobility to the mission-critical role it plays today as the primary connectivity method for billions of devices, users, and things. We applaud this effort by Wi-Fi Alliance to simplify the terminology used to differentiate between the different generations of technologies as it will help users more quickly and easily discern the technology their particular device or network supports.” – Lissa Hollinger, Vice President of Portfolio Marketing for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company
“Wi-Fi has revolutionized nearly every aspect of the last two decades, fueling significant social and economic development. As we enter a new generation of connectivity, Wi-Fi isn’t resting on its laurels. We’re packing in new capabilities that deliver blazing fast speeds, high throughput, ultra-low latency, enhanced security and new features like target wake time for a seamless connected experience across a wide range of use cases. Boingo is proud to be part of this generational Wi-Fi launch and work alongside Wi-Fi Alliance to establish programs that further evolve the wireless ecosystem.” – Dr. Derek Peterson, chief technology officer, Boingo Wireless
“Consumers love Wi-Fi – nearly every Internet connected device has it and over 80% of all wireless traffic goes over it. The sixth generation of Wi-Fi – 802.11ax – is the most advanced ever, bringing faster speeds, greater capacity and coverage, and will make the user experience even more enjoyable. This simple, generational representation will let consumers differentiate phones and wireless routers based on their Wi-Fi capabilities, helping them pick the device that suits their needs best. When they see that their device contains Wi-Fi 6, they will know that they have the best wireless connectivity on the market.”
– Vijay Nagarajan, senior director of marketing for Wireless Communications and Connectivity at Broadcom
“CEVA welcomes the introduction of the clear terminology. We have been licensing MAC and Modem IP for many years and across many generations of the technology spanning 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax. The new naming structure gives a simple and consistent framework to boost user awareness, which is especially important now at the dawn of Wi-Fi 6.” – Aviv Malinovitch, GM of the Connectivity BU at CEVA
“Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is a major advancement that keeps Wi-Fi as the technology of choice for local wireless connectivity for consumers and enterprises. Intel will deliver Wi-Fi 6 solutions for both clients and home infrastructure as part of our continued commitment to improve connectivity and security for the best possible user experiences.” – Eric McLaughlin, General Manager of Wireless Solutions, Client Computing Group at Intel Corp
“Wi-Fi 6, based on 802.11ax technology, will greatly improve the user experience. Real world, dense environments require reliable, secure and consistently excellent download and upload experience. Marvell has worked closely with Wi-Fi Alliance in bringing this technology to market and offers a broad array of products that fully implement Wi-Fi 6, including the technologically and superior upload capabilities.” – Mark Montierth, vice president and general manager, Wireless Connectivity Business Unit at Marvell Semiconductor
“Wi-Fi Alliance’s mission to connect everyone and everything aligns with MediaTek’s vision to make great technology accessible to everyone. As consumers depend on fast, reliable connectivity to support the growing number of connected devices in their homes, this new terminology will help consumers better understand the latest Wi-Fi technology advancements and make more informed buying decisions for their connectivity needs.” – Finbarr Moynihan, VP of Corporate Sales & Business Development (Americas & Europe) at MediaTek
“NETGEAR welcomes an easy way to highlight for customers what level of Wi-Fi technology they are using. We believe this will help customers better understand and appreciate the generational differences in Wi-Fi technology and usher in the latest 802.11ax standard.” – David Henry, senior vice president of Connected Home Products for NETGEAR
“Given the central role Wi-Fi plays in delivering connected experiences to hundreds of millions of people every day, and with next generation technologies like 802.11ax emerging, the Wi-Fi Alliance generational naming scheme for Wi-Fi is an intuitive and necessary approach to defining Wi-Fi’s value for our industry and consumers alike. We support this initiative as a global leader in Wi-Fi shipments and deployment of Wi-Fi 6, based on 802.11ax technology, along with customers like Ruckus, Huawei, NewH3C, KDDI Corporation/NEC Platforms, Charter Communications, KT Corp, and many more spanning enterprise, venue, home, mobile and computing segments.” – Rahul Patel, senior vice president and general manager, connectivity and networking, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
“As one of the first Wi-Fi Alliance members, Ruckus Networks supports the new Wi-Fi Alliance naming scheme. This campaign will help the networking ecosystem better identify the different generations of Wi-Fi technologies in future releases.” – Greg Beach, Vice President of Wireless Products, Ruckus Networks, an ARRIS company.
Liberty Global is the latest telco to join the HomeGrid Forum, having already deployed a G.hn wifi extender solution to improve connectivity in the home.
The wifi extender, which has been deployed in some Liberty Global subsidiaries since 2015 including Telenet in Belgium and Virgin Media in the UK, delivers improved wifi speeds in rooms far away from the residential gateway, with the G.hn standard claiming the praise. In the HomeGrid Forum, Liberty Global is joining dozens of other organizations, including the likes of China Telecom, BT and AT&T.
“Industry collaboration is an important component within the Alliance and Liberty Global are true innovators in investing in and enabling seamless home-networking technology,” said Dr. Len Dauphinee, HomeGrid Forum President. “Liberty Global is a major provider of home networking and we are delighted to welcome them to HomeGrid Forum as we continue to move towards a smart connectivity future.”
“Liberty Global is delighted to be working with HomeGrid Forum and supporting the progress of G.hn technology,” said Peter Joyce, Director of Connectivity CPE Architecture at Liberty Global. “We look forward to working closely with HomeGrid Forum and improving the future of home networking for our customers.”
While wifi has been a consistent part of the connectivity world, it is often overlooked. Frustrations for consumers still persist when it comes to breadth of coverage throughout the home and also weak signal in rooms which are furthest away from the router. This is one of the issues the G.hn standard looks to address.
G.hn is a specification for home networking with data rates up to 2 Gbit/s and operation over four types of legacy wires: telephone wiring, coaxial cables, power lines and plastic optical fiber. A single G.hn semiconductor device is able to network over any of the supported home wire types. Aside from the telcos, the HomeGrid Forum (the non-profit trade group promoting G.hn) also counts the likes of Echostar and Panasonic as members.