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December 4, 2017 by Robert Balsamo

Technology Corner: The Latest in Wi-Fi Analytics

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I recently spoke with Hal Roberts, Calix Systems Engineer and Architect and representative to FSAN, ITU, and the Wi-Fi Alliance. Hal gave me an update on recent developments in Wi-Fi analytics and some of the leadership work he has been doing within these groups to establish frameworks for the entire industry to follow.

Robert: Hal, Calix has developed a rich set of Wi-Fi analytics but can you explain the work that has been going on to develop a standardized set of Wi-Fi “Data Elements”; what are they, why should we care and why should they be standardized?

Hal: In the years since Calix has offered Wi-Fi enabled gateway products, we have supported our customers by troubleshooting Wi-Fi issues, and we have learned a lot in the process. It is well known among service providers that Wi-Fi is the largest source of customer complaints and in the case of one large MSO, is responsible for $1 billion of service calls per year. Calix systems engineers and customer service personnel have worked together to determine key “Data Elements” (DEs) that provide real insight into Wi-Fi performance and problems. These DEs are the foundation of Calix’s rich set of Wi-Fi Analytics and are used for troubleshooting and even network optimization within our Calix Support Cloud and CC+ products.

Robert: Can you provide an example of how these DEs are used?

Hal: Sure. One DE is a measure of how the airtime is used on the Wi-Fi channel. Airtime can be used by the customer’s own Wi-Fi network, or by interference from the neighbor’s Wi-Fi or non-Wi-Fi sources like microwave ovens. As Free Airtime is reduced by interference or customer utilization, the network can become congested as shown in the diagram from 4:00 to 6:00.

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Robert: How can I use this data to improve the customer experience?

Hal: In this case, we can see that interference consumed all the airtime leading to a loss of Wi-Fi for a two-hour period. There are several ways of mitigating interference. Changing the Wi-Fi channel, moving clients from 2.4GHz to the wider 5GHz band or using the rarely used DFS channels (5GHz Wi-Fi channels in the radar spectrum). Other key DEs must be used in conjunction with airtime to determine the best solution. These mitigation steps are increasingly moving from manual to automatic operation, which is often called SON (self-organizing network).

Robert: I understand we have been working to move these DEs into a public standard, why?

Hal: While these DEs are generally available from the Wi-Fi chip drivers, they are not well defined and not available from most access points. Calix conducted a recent test of the Data elements available in a set of popular TR-69 capable gateways. In 50% of the units none of the DEs were available, and in 50% less than 1/3rd of our proposed DEs were available.

While cloud-based SON solutions have great promise, they will never be successful unless these DEs are widely adopted in gateways and access points. When they are, we can greatly improve the customer experience and reduce operators Wi-Fi troubleshooting OPEX and further the transition of in-home networking from cumbersome and unsightly wires to flexible and reliable wireless connections. While a great amount of progress has been made in adding these to the Broadband Forum’s TR-181 Device Data Model, it is still missing some key DEs.

Therefore, Calix worked with CableLabs and Nokia on a proposal to define the key DEs in the WFA and ultimately implement a certification program for access points. Ultimately over 10 other WFA members co-sponsored our proposal.

Just a few weeks ago, our joint proposal was accepted by the Wi-Fi Alliance Board of Directors, and the Data Elements Task Group is now an official WFA task group. Josh Redmore of CableLabs was elected chair, and Hal was elected as a co-chair. Weekly meetings of the task group have already begun and an aggressive schedule for completion of the work has been adopted. Stay tuned for much more to come from these certification efforts.