Over the last few years, most communications service providers (CSPs) have been deploying broadband gateways with integrated WiFi capabilities to their subscribers, eliminating the need for external access point devices while giving the service provider the responsibility of ensuring that a proper wireless connection is offered. However, most operators have not really focused on monitoring and assuring the customer’s quality of experience on that critical wireless loop.
The exponential growth of WiFi devices, which frequently share the same frequencies among themselves and with such other technologies as Bluetooth or Zigbee, has become a real challenge, especially in dense areas such as multiple dwelling units (MDUs) or office buildings because of interference and time slot usage.
The surge in simultaneous use of multiple screens in the home, all frequently accessing high-definition entertainment services, has added another dimension of complexity. These services not only have very high demands in terms of bandwidth, but also in the reliability of connections.
At the same time, actual access bandwidth for subscribers keeps growing year over year. Such architectures and technologies as fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and DOCSIS 3.1 will spur gigabit access rates by 2017. In parallel on the wireless front, new WiFi technologies like 802.11ac with MU-MIMO and the upcoming 60GHz 802.11ad also promise to deliver connection rates of more than 1 Gbit/s.
Taken together, these factors are having a big impact on the service perception of the end users and their resulting number of interactions with the CSP call centers. In some cases, operators have reported that up to 75% of the calls received are related to the WiFi connection. Coupled with the lack of tools to troubleshoot and operate in this segment, this has taken a heavy toll on operational costs, due to increased call handling times and a higher number of truck rolls.
I believe there is an immediate need to address the quality of experience (QoE) assurance in the WiFi loop in a holistic manner. This model, which I call “WiFi 360 assurance,” calls for attacking the problems from three different angles.
First, service installation. The initial installation at the customer premises offers an unmatched opportunity — which is too often ignored — to perform a validation and assessment of how the service will perform on the wireless side. Nowadays, most technicians carry mobile devices, which, with the addition of a very simple application for field operations, could be used to perform automated measurements that emulate end-user behavior. All this while performing the standard walk through a customer’s home and without the need for specialized, expensive and difficult-to-use test equipment.
This approach offers several advantages, such as:
- Improving customer satisfaction and reducing repeated truck rolls through a systematic and automatic “do-it-once, do-it-right” approach.
- Instantly validating the quality of the installation, allowing the technician to move the gateway to another room or install repeaters in case one device cannot serve the entire house by itself.
- Enabling operators to generate and record a “WiFi birth certificate” of the customer premises. This can be stored in a central server, allowing later queries that would be very valuable in the case of a future revisit or a call to the call center.
Second, self-service management. With consumers now averaging four connected devices per household, according to the IHS Connected Device Market Monitor, there is an increasing need to provide the end users with simple ways of performing such elementary service operations as remembering the network wireless password when adding a new device, changing the SSID name or changing the password. These types of operations typically require interaction with the call centers and account for a very large number of their daily calls. These functions can be easily automated through a CSP mobile app that can be offered to the end users.
One other important advantage of having self-service management apps is they allow end users to report service issues and, with the appropriate supporting software platform, perform instant automated troubleshooting should wireless loop problems appear.
Third, self-optimizing networks. In densely populated areas or MDUs, wireless interference can be a serious problem. WiFi gateways typically have channel selection algorithms, but in general these algorithms are not very smart and do not adapt well to the ever-changing situations of the wireless environment. At the same time, a single CSP often can have control of the configuration of a significant number of deployed access points in a certain area. Together with the site survey capabilities of these newer apps, much more intelligent actions can be performed, such as configuring neighboring devices in different channels and reducing or increasing transmit power levels, depending on the RF environment of the house. If these actions can be centralized and performed in a periodic fashion, they would greatly increase the efficiency and the quality of service of the whole network. We would then have a self-optimizing network (SON).
In conclusion, there’s a lot that can be done to not only better understand the individual WiFi environment, but also to improve the customer’s WiFi quality of experience… and save money while doing so. Integrated software apps and back-end OSS tools are the keys to achieving this next level of customer Quality of Experience.