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Home wifi heading for meltdown?

Wireless home networks are heading for meltdown, as the technology struggles to keep pace with an increasing slew of multimedia content being thrown at it.

As David Callisch, communications director at Ruckus Wireless pointed out to telecoms.com, anyone who has tried streaming audio or video from one device to another over wifi will be familiar with its problems.

“Wi-fi is designed for data but not for streaming services. It is inherently unstable,” Callisch said.

The big problem facing operators and service providers as they move into the triple-, quadruple-, or multi-play markets, is that consumers now expect the service to be taken through to the end device via wireless. Although broadband pipes to the home are gaining in capacity, the increasing demands the content will put on the typical wifi network is becoming all but unbearable.

“Content and services will all be delivered via broadband, which leads to problems for service providers, consumers and carriers when distributing content around the home,” said Callisch. “When consumers buy a service, they want it to just work.” But because the typical consumer does not have a house wired for Ethernet and does not want unsightly cabling installed, wireless is the only option.

“30 per cent of consumers turn away the whole package of services because of wiring. So carriers are now concerned about the experience within the home,” said Callisch. The danger is that a poor experience with the wireless part of the service, will put consumers off bundled offerings. “The focus has shifted from the last mile to the last 100 feet,” he said.

Ruckus itself is a member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry organisation tasked with developing and driving adoption of wireless technology. But the company also develops equipment designed to optimise wifi connectivity between devices.

According to Ruckus, one of the main issues with wifi (802.11a, b and g) is that it uses omni-directional antennae, which allows for blanket radio coverage but reduces the effectiveness of the connection to a single point. While 802.11g promises up to 50Mbps connectivity, the reality is that the connection speed will jump around significantly and when it drops below an acceptable level for streaming media, a reduction in service quality will occur.

“We can make wifi predictable with a device targeted at the carrier,” said Callisch. “We stabilise wifi by giving a lower target for data throughput that can be hit every time, say 20Mbps (for 802.11g),” he said.

Through the use of a smart antenna array, which targets the signal to make it stronger, Ruckus’ technology promises to stabilise wifi within the home.

Future revisions of wifi, such as 802.11n – which promises speeds of up to 100Mbps – will allow for higher data throughput but will not necessarily do enough to stabilise the technology, Callisch warned. The problem will be further compounded with the proliferation of high definition (HD) content, which will demand greater bandwidth, but will also be more susceptible to quality of service, as will VoIP over wifi.

But the Wi-Fi Alliance has said it is addressing the problem. Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance told telcoms.com that the group is “doing a lot to enable consumer entertainment and multimedia in the home.

“Our 802.11n work is at the cornerstone of that effort, but we have a variety of other programmes addressing QoS, voice, and convergence,” he said.

The Alliance is also working closely with the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) on “addressing some of the “upper layer” application requirements for the digital home.”

The DLNA published guidelines for home networked device interoperability in March, which looks at issues such as quality of service and real time transport protocols, as well as the inclusion of mobile devices within the network.


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