CableLabs Seizes On Smarter WiFi

Following a partnership established last year, CableLabs and the Wi-Fi Alliance have come forth with a standard way to collect and analyze data on WiFi networks that can be used to troubleshoot and correct problems.

That standard, called Wi-Fi Certified Data Elements, will provide service providers with deeper visibility into WiFi networks, pinpointing data related to WiFi performance and reducing an increasing reliance on customers to report home network issues.

Though proprietary WiFi proactive network maintenance (PNM) offerings are already present in market, CableLabs stressed that no global standard for the collection of "key actionalable data" for WiFi in residential and small- and midsized businesses exist. The new Wi-Fi Certified Data Elements standard aims to bridge that gap.

To ensure that systems don't collect more data than necessary, the standard centers on Key Performance Indicator (KPIs) that are responsible for most WiFi issues, Josh Redmore, lead architect, wireless research and development at CableLabs, explained in this blog post.

"It supports scheduled and asynchronous data transmission that gives operators unprecedented visibility into customer Wi-Fi network performance without adversely affecting the quality of the connection," Redmore noted.

Using this standard, if a WiFi channel in an apartment building serviced by a cable operator becomes too crowded, for example, the system could proactively and automatically recommend a better channel before a widespread slowdown occurs.

Reducing WiFi-related capex waste
The standard also aims to help cable operators trim down rising WiFi-related operational costs. CableLabs estimates that MSOs waste more than $1 billion a year on troubleshooting residential WiFi problems, and that about two-thirds of customer complaints are WiFi-related.

The code for Wi-Fi Certified Data Elements has been released to the open source community, so anyone can use it without requiring proprietary equipment or other restrictions. With respect to deployment, MSOs can work with their suppliers to get the code implemented in modems and routers that have been certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, CableLabs said. However, the operators will still need to set up servers to collect and analyze the incoming data.

In addition to having ties into the cable industry's "10G" initiative, which centers on both wired and wireless networks, CableLabs is undertaking the Wi-Fi Certified Data Elements effort with the Wi-Fi Alliance as whole-home networking systems become an increasingly central part of cable operator-delivered broadband services.

Among MSOs, Comcast has developed "xFi," a WiFi and home networking management system, while others have launched premium whole-home offerings in partnership with suppliers such as AirTies, eero (now part of Amazon), Plume, Hitron and Netgear.

The new data and troubleshooting standard follows other WiFi-related projects undertaken by CableLabs. In May, the organization announced a different open source project, called Dual Channel WiFi, that's designed to allocate dedicated channels for specific applications or traffic types that require more bandwidth or latency thresholds, such as online gaming.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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