Designing for the ultimate home Wi-Fi experience

By Scot Mason

I bet we would all love a home like the one in the movie Iron Man, run by a benevolent AI able to serve up a world of information on command and capable of cleaning and maintaining itself.

The good news is that we are making our homes smarter all the time, adding intelligent thermostats, lighting systems and voice-activated personal assistants. Pretty soon, the average home will contain up to 100 intelligent devices. And the people driving this trend, taking us into the future, are consumers in Asia. In fact, the region’s smart home market is expected to reach US$115 billion by 2030, accounting for 30% of the global market share.

Of course, with more high-bandwidth devices attached to the network every year, customers’ expectations are getting higher all the time. For their intelligent home to work, they need connectivity in every corner of the house. And it is up to network and service providers to make that happen.

Are homes ready to become intelligent and connected spaces?

In the average household, Wi-Fi is already feeling the burden of numerous devices hogging the airwaves, the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) in the home has exacerbated the matter. However, help is at hand with the adoption of Wi-Fi networks based on both the 802.11ac and 802.11ax standards — designed to support a greater number of simultaneously streaming devices — to give them the constant connectivity they need.

But with the growing popularity of IoT, 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) streaming, 8K video, gaming and virtual reality (VR), there may come a point where the demands of tomorrow’s connected home will put today’s AX and multi-access point architectures under some serious strain. Customers assume that by buying higher-bandwidth Wi-Fi devices, they guarantee higher speeds and provide ubiquitous coverage to all corners of the home.

But this is not necessarily true. Operators know only too well that the characteristics of Wi-Fi propagation and uniqueness of each consumer’s home mean the exact opposite is often the case. Most consumers experience a mix of Wi-Fi hotspots, where performance is good, and dead zones, where connectivity is reduced or even close to zero. To make the connected home a livable reality, Internet service providers and broadcast technology specialists need to think of ways to cut through these dead zones. Simply put, connectivity needs to reach to your front door if you want to have a video entry system.

Five ways operators can deliver the ultimate home Wi-Fi experience

So what should operators do to provide seamless Wi-Fi coverage for their customers’ homes? Here are five ways to get ready for the future today:

  1. Make sure access points and routers are well designed: The nicer they look, the more likely consumers will place them somewhere central in the home. Central locations are far better for Wi-Fi propagation and ensure the wireless access point uses the best possible base-radio solution to provide excellent Wi-Fi baseline coverage.
  2. Use band management: With overcrowding on the 2.4GHz RF band, it has never been more important to use a modem that supports dual-band concurrency (DBC), providing the modem with the ability to use two frequency bands, for instance 2.4GHz and 5GHz, simultaneously. Further to this, the modem can take advantage of band-steering capabilities made available to 802.11ac band steering, which means that the access point monitors all clients in the environment, keeps track of whether they are single-band or dual-band, as well as which types of access points are in there. When a dual-band device tries to connect over 2.4GHz, the access point steers it towards the cleaner, higher-capacity 5GHz frequency band instead. Users on the 2.4GHz band win too, because they are now sharing that spectrum with fewer devices.
  3. Switch to high-density antenna configuration: Ensure that blind spots or corners with high interference have Wi-Fi access. Start with a better base-radio, such as 802.11ax. This provides a better user experience through a more optimal use of spectrum, continued operation in dense environments, improved Wi-Fi coverage in the home and power savings. From 2019 onwards, we expect new AX wireless client devices, such as smartphones and laptops, to be introduced. This should yield up to 25% improvement in connection speed.
  4. Be flexible with your Wi-Fi configurations: While multi-access point technology is widely available, a single-access point may still provide a cost-effective solution for many customers.
  5. Use intelligence in Wi-Fi solutions, such as ARRIS HomeAssure: The HomeAssure technology enables consumers to experience consistent, high-speed Wi-Fi coverage in every corner of the home, with Wi-Fi extenders and intelligent gateways that are simple to install, configure and manage.

The potential of intelligent, connected home technology is astounding. We could all soon be living in high-tech homes like Tony Stark’s in the near future. As an industry, it is our job to provide the connectivity that will make this possible. Now, when do I get my Iron Man suit?

Scott Mason is senior solutions architect, Asia-Pacific, ARRIS

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