The demand for – and on – residential Wi-Fi solutions is spiking, fueled by video services. Wi-Fi video delivers benefits that give service providers an edge in a triple play market defined by intense competition and commoditized pricing. Residential Wi-Fi’s benefits come at a cost – an in-home architecture and operating environment that differ from wireline counterparts and thus present installation and ongoing performance challenges. Service providers must understand these challenges and arm themselves with the right tools to overcome them and maximize residential Wi-Fi’s benefits.
The worldwide market for triple play services continues to grow, raising the top-line for service providers. But what about the bottom-line? Competition is driving down prices, pressuring service providers to reduce capital and operating expenditures to maintain profit margins. At the same time, service providers must continue to invest and innovate so they can deliver new offerings that enhance customer loyalty and retention.
Residential Wi-Fi represents an untapped resource that can prove to be a difference-maker. To date, the wireless LAN primarily has supported Internet access. What if the WLAN were used for IP-based TV services? Customers can locate TVs virtually anywhere in or around their homes, and easily add new screens. Service providers need not deal with extensive coax and Ethernet cable deployments throughout the customer’s home, slashing installation times and subsequent repair calls.
With the introduction of the 802.11ac standard, residential Wi-Fi networks can support the speed and capacity necessary for high-quality IPTV services. According to a May 2014 Infonetics Research report, the number of global IPTV subscribers grew by nearly 25% from 2012 to 2013, with an anticipated 14% compound annual growth rate through 2018. Between 2012 and 2015, global IPTV revenue is expected to almost double1. Clearly, service providers have incentive to fully leverage the power of residential Wi-Fi.
1Infonetics Broadcast and Streaming Video Equipment and Pay TV Subscribers, May 2014.
Service providers must ensure that the residential Wi-Fi based IPTV offering delivers an outstanding user experience, which means a crystal-clear picture not subject to degradations, delays, or dropouts. Achieving this goal can be a challenge, because the well-established tools and methods used to install and test a wireline infrastructure do not apply to wireless, which is non-deterministic and thus introduces important variables such as location, number and type of devices in the home, and even time-of-day.
Success hinges on identifying where to place the Wi-Fi access point dedicated to video, where to place TV set-top boxes, whether to use additional access points or repeaters throughout the home, and other factors. The objective is to empower the technician in the field to select a clean channel on which the access point resides, and orient the access point and set-top boxes to maximize the transmission rate on that channel, as quickly as possible so the technician can move on to other business-critical tasks. Channel utilization and signal-to-noise ratio are critical drivers of the transmission rate.
Invariably, other devices will share the channel with the access point, and only one device at a time can transmit over the channel. In order to optimize channel utilization, service provider field personnel must understand what other devices share the channel, what kind of devices they are, how often they transmit, and if they rely on a slower, legacy 802.11 protocol. To maximize signal-to-noise ratio, field personnel need to raise the signal, lower the noise, or both. The signal can be increased by finding the best location or orientation for the access point and/or deploying another access point or repeater. Noise can be reduced by switching channels or by identifying, locating, and mitigating/eliminating interference sources. Some sources may reside on the WLAN, such as access points and the aforementioned 802.11 devices. Other sources outside of the WLAN typically found in the residential environment include cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, motion detectors, video cameras, zigbee-based smoke detectors/CO2 monitors, or other home automation equipment.
The lifecycle for residential Wi-Fi solutions and associated network infrastructure consists of three phases:
- Planning – Design networks for coverage, capacity, and performance. Plan access point placement, channel widths, and channel assignments.
- Deployment and Verification – Install and configure equipment, validate the channel plan, verify coverage and performance, and assess network readiness for anticipated technology and applications.
- Maintenance and Optimization – Monitor the WLAN in real-time and troubleshoot security, performance, compliance, and connectivity issues.
When executing the lifecycle, service providers and their field personnel should follow these best practices:
- Discover the Wi-Fi Environment – Identify the presence of other access points in range of the proposed residential Wi-Fi install, along with which channels are being used by which devices at what level of utilization in order to select the ideal channel.
- Find and Mitigate Interference Sources – Raise the signal-to-noise ratio and thus the transmission rate and quality of service by moving devices and/or access points to reduce interference from existing WLAN sources. Identify, locate, and if possible remove non-WLAN interference sources from the environment. If the interference source cannot be removed, consider changing the channel on which the access point will operate.
- Validate the Deployment – Conduct a post-deployment survey throughout the entire residential Wi-Fi site to measure signal coverage, signal-to-noise ratio, and user throughput.
- Optimize the Deployment – Make adjustments based on the site survey, including moving/adding access points, selecting a cleaner channel, or moving the locations of set-top boxes. Share the results with customers to minimize trouble calls because they understand the operating environment.
To successfully implement these best practices, service providers need tools such as spectrum analyzers and WLAN analyzers armed with capabilities including:
- Displaying comprehensive, easy-to-assimilate views of all channels, devices, and utilizations in the area of the residential Wi-Fi install for planning purposes.
- Identifying not only the presence of interference, but the type of device causing the interference and its location.
- Supporting the recording of signal levels on a map/floor plan to visualize signal coverage and throughput for the entire site on a single view to effectively correlate information while conducting a survey.
- Illustrating the real-world user experience for common Wi-Fi network applications (web browsing, file downloads, audio, video, etc.) in real-time and over the course of time to most rapidly detect, isolate, and resolve degradations and anomalies.
AirCheck™ G2 Wi-Fi Tester
AirMagnet Spectrum XT