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Cable Tech

CableLabs forges agnostic wireless connection for operators

In another example of the cable industry's pursuit of network and service convergence, CableLabs has introduced an access network-agnostic platform that's designed to help mobile users seamlessly move across Wi-Fi, LTE, CBRS and, potentially, C-band-based wireless network connections on an application-by-application basis.

That offering, called Intelligent Wireless Network Steering (IWiNS), also fits into the cable industry's broader "10G" initiative, Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, explained in a recent press briefing.

10G is focused on the delivery of symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds along with enhanced security and low latency capabilities. In addition to targeting cable's widely deployed hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks, 10G is also being built to support fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) and wireless networks.

IWiNS is surfacing as US cable operators continue to add wireless and mobile to their arsenals, including ongoing deployments of Wi-Fi access points, the launch of mobile services via MVNO partnerships and plans to deploy wireless/mobile networks that take advantage of licensed and unlicensed CBRS spectrum. IWiNS is also taking shape as US cable operators participate in the auction for C-band spectrum. Additionally, about half of CableLabs's 65 members worldwide are mobile network operators (MNOs) in their own right.

IWiNS is a "milestone" for the industry's 10G efforts, McKinney said, noting that work on the project got underway back in 2018.

He said the technology uses adaptive traffic steering that allows customers to automatically maintain a solid broadband experience across a wide range of devices when in the presence of overlapping wireless access network technologies.

And rather than performing a simple handoff between those various types of access networks, IWiNS uses anonymized crowd sourcing data and real-time reporting of traffic congestion to effectively re-route the customer to the most optimized experience, McKinney said. As a step further, the technology is also designed to steer mobile traffic based on specific applications, such as videoconferencing or simple web browsing, dependent on their individual needs or demands for upstream or downstream capacity and even lower latencies, he said.

An executive summary for IWiNS posted online notes that consumers typically struggle to perform manual network troubleshooting. It also cites CableLabs research finding that 64% of mobile customers have experienced connectivity issues that resulted in them forgetting Wi-Fi networks or turning Wi-Fi off altogether due to bad perceived quality. IWiNS attempts to tackle this with a blend of network and application awareness capabilities.

No change to the access network

Importantly, IWiNS doesn't require any changes to the operating system (OS) of the device.

"No deep hooks … need to be put in place," McKinney said, likening it to having a "network engineer embedded in your device" to determine the best network for the type of traffic the consumer is using.

Mario Di Dio, a principal architect at CableLabs credited with conceiving the idea, said IWiNS is effectively an OTT solution enabled by a software client installed on the user's smartphone. Meanwhile, cable operators utilizing the IWiNS technology will deploy the servers and other network-facing elements that run the platform software.

Di Dio said operators – whether they run mobile services as an MNO or through MVNO partnerships, could deploy IWiNS in their own data centers, on-premises or even in a public cloud, and do so without making any changes to the access network.

According to info posted by CableLabs subsidiary Kyrio, IWiNS will also allow operators to define policies that are specific to their product offerings or service tiers, such as those tailored for customers who work from home. Additionally, those policies can also target specific networks, whether it's LTE, home Wi-Fi or public Wi-Fi.

Trials underway

CableLabs said IWiNS is currently in lab trials, but didn't identify which operators are conducting tests and what the anticipated timing might be for commercial deployments of the technology. McKinney said CableLabs is now working on licensing agreements with vendors and other third parties that are interested in procuring the IWiNS technology.

C-Band spectrum has not been part of those tests, but the agnostic approach of IWiNS means C-Band spectrum can potentially be supported, the organization said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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