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WiFi: 'All About That Data'

To paraphrase the Meghan Trainor earworm "All About That Bass," it's really "all about that data" when it comes to WiFi and the steps that service providers can take in making more performance metrics available for users to ensure the best customer experience.

How so? Consider for a moment:

Do you drive your car without looking at the gas gauge? How about the speedometer: Do you avoid glancing down at it? These are rhetorical questions; of course you don't. Otherwise, you'd end up having a really bad day. Oddly, this is how WiFi is consumed. Today, the consumer uses WiFi without ever knowing important metrics, such as air quality, load or congestion.

If you happen to be home streaming a movie and your WiFi slows to a crawl, do you know why? Is there a dashboard that explains what's happening? When was the last time your WiFi access point educated you on its health? We know the answer, and it's becoming vital for service providers to expose the data.

According to Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), a leading customer premises equipment manufacturer, nearly two thirds (63%) of global consumers have issues with residential WiFi. This isn't surprising considering that Arris also found that 72% of consumers consider WiFi vitally important in every room of their house -- and yes, that includes the bathroom.

Every access point has what we're looking for. The challenge is to extract, expose and execute on the data as seen from millions of end points. Once the data is exposed, there is no question about what the subscriber is experiencing (i.e., poor signal, high latency, load, etc). Now that the why is known, the data can be executed on, ensuring that the client experience remains positive. One such step is to steer the client to a better network in a way that is seamless and transparent.

To illustrate further, let's discuss an example in which two access points (APs) are near one another. Figure A below shows two APs (AP-1 and AP-2). AP-1 has five clients, and AP-2 has two. Notice that P6 is closer to AP-1; however, P6 is connected to AP-2. In this scenario, the traffic steering framework deduced that AP-1's load is high, so P6 was redirected to AP-2. Essentially, the traffic steering framework determined that overall throughput is greater on AP-2 because the client is more efficient when associated with an underutilized access point.

Traffic steering frameworks can also work with cellular providers to determine if LTE is a better option than WiFi. For example, if there are no adequate access points for WiFi clients to associate with, then connecting a cellular provider is desirable. Case in point: If all access points are heavily loaded, or if all signal levels as seen from the client are unacceptable, then switching to a cellular network ensures that the subscriber's experience remains positive.

If steering a client to the best available network is the first step, then empowering the subscriber with consumable data is the second. In doing so, we enable the subscriber to take corrective action without needing to call customer service. One classic example is seen when a heavily loaded web server is not steadfastly responding to requests. In this case, the WiFi is fine; but again -- how does the subscriber know?

Speed and performance issues are tricky to diagnose. For example, what if your emails are moving slower than snail mail? Or you feel like a sloth waiting for servers? Pretty much everything affects speed. Interference, retransmissions, low signal, high noise -- you name it, it affects it.

Let's suppose your children are happily streaming movies and playing games, while you're trying to buy flowers for your spouse. You start experiencing slowness, and it's not clear why. It could be that your children's devices have high airtime utilization, and the available backhaul capacity is struggling to support their Internet usage. The ability to "consumerize" this data so the subscriber can quickly discern the root cause is just not available today -- and it needs to be. There is no question that such insight would dramatically improve the subscriber experience.

One of the most common challenges that consumers face today is a lack of wireless coverage in the home. Providing the subscriber with coverage data that demonstrates a low or absent signal at various locations will educate them on the need to purchase additional access points. And in this case, additional access points can equate to a better experience.

With data, service providers can steer clients to the right access point or to the right network (WiFi or cellular). But if even after traffic steering the performance is still poor, then the consumer has the visibility that allows either the user or the operator to take corrective action (such as adding another AP). They are both necessary and complementary to one another.

— Douglas Berman, Solutions Architect, WiFi, Amdocs

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