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A new standard for giving you better Wi-Fi

Apr 29, 2019 By Gary Maidment
AICTO

With the mission of bringing the benefits of converged broadband to homes and businesses, the Broadband Forum (BBF) has published more than 400 standards over the last 26 years. And one of the latest is TR-398, which it released this February at Mobile World Congress 2019. The BBF CEO Robin Mersh explains what this new standard means for carriers and consumers.

A shift in perspective

“TR-398 is focused on delivering carrier-class Wi-Fi,” says Mersh, pinpointing the major value proposition of the standard. “Because if you look at it from the carrier’s perspective, most broadband is delivered by Wi-Fi.” Over 1 billion people use Wi-Fi worldwide, the technology is only gaining in importance as a broadband product, especially as part of service bundles. And with the rise of applications like 4K TV, online gaming, and IoT-heavy smart home applications mean that consumers expect more from home connectivity.

From a business perspective, “Wi-Fi services need to be very reliable,” says Mersh. “So you’re not getting things like jitter and packet loss,” which are some of the things that cause customer churn. To stop users from jumping ship, carriers need to ensure that a high-quality broadband experience doesn’t end in the home. But it often does according to Ovum: between 30 and 60 percent of broadband-related complaints are due to Wi-Fi Quality of Experience (QoE).

Why?

Historically, home networks have received less investment. Because the majority of households rely on a single Wi-Fi router to connect all home devices to the broadband network, high-density urban environments often see dozens of access points and peers competing for the same radio frequencies. This in turn causes delays over the first wireless hop, which can reach hundreds of milliseconds in the worst case scenarios. For gamers, any latency above 20 ms will cause stutters. For 4K video streaming, which requires at least 25 Mbps bandwidth, the increasing number of concurrent users increases the likelihood of latency when loading video, buffering, or switching channels – all things that greatly annoy users.

Without a standard that precisely measures QoE metrics, however, it’s impossible for carriers to optimize O&M based on accurate data.

Enter TR-398

Marking the world’s first standard that quantitatively measures the performance of home Wi-Fi devices, TR-398 covers six dimensions:

  • Receiver sensitivity
  • Throughput 
  • Coverage
  • Multiuser support
  • Anti-interference
  • Stability

With defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as Wi-Fi equivalent bandwidth, rate at different distances, and throughput for multiple online users, TR-398 helps carriers provide and users select optimal Wi-Fi solutions. “Carriers get fewer delivery problems and the user gets a much better experience,” says Mersh. In fact, alongside good customer service and availability, these six dimensions tend to cover the factors that surveys show consumers value. Speed is important, but it only forms part of the equation.

The BBF has about 160 members that contribute to its standards. Each standard is a collaboration across the supply chain, which includes operators and vendors like system vendors, CPE companies, test labs and chipmakers. “For this one, I think we had something like 16 contributing companies,” says Mersh. “And of course Huawei was one of the major ones.” Huawei was a key contributor to many of the test cases and dimensions like maximum throughput, airtime fairness, spatial consistency, and AP coexistence. It also led discussions for defining a replicable and controllable test environment, and conducted a range of pre-tests, reporting the results as the reference point for setting pass/fail criteria.

Making some noise in the market

Mersh concedes that while the BBF is technically very good at standards, there’s room for improvement when it comes to promotion. “The issue is really making sure that the industry knows these things exist…It’s something we need to be better at.” he says. “Because then you will see them specified in RFPs, and then vendors implementing [new standards] in their technologies or hardware, and so on.”

It’s not just about marketing though, says Mersh. Expanding the member base of the BBF by, for example, involving more test labs is crucial, as is pursuing related projects. “We have one called the User Services Platform, which is all about management and control of devices and services in the home, and is the successor protocol to the widely deployed TR-069. And we also have the project Open Broadband – Multi Access, which is in collaboration with the Prpl Foundation. We’re developing a full carrier-grade MAP solution that includes an open source reference implementation of MAP,” he says. “Both of these projects are also critical to the development of carrier-class Wi-Fi.”

The right tools for the job

At the FTTH Conference 2019 in March, Huawei released its new flagship GPON ONT, the Huawei EchoLife K5 Pro, which complies with TR-398.

Offering an air interface rate up to 2180 Mbps, the EchoLife K5 Pro applies beamforming technology to improve Wi-Fi coverage by up to 25 percent, and automatically selects the optimal Wi-Fi frequency band (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz) to ensure a full-coverage, carrier-class Wi-Fi experience with strong anti-interference capabilities for multiple users in one residence. Thanks to an optimization algorithm designed to address severe interference, the ONT ensures the playback of 4K videos on multiple TVs over Wi-Fi is smooth, even if the packet loss rate approaches 1 percent.

While Mersh accepts that the work of the BBF is “a never-ending search for perfection,” Huawei believes that the work the BBF does and the partnerships it facilitates – as well as great tech – helps lay a strong foundation.

Many operators around the world gearing up to use TR-398 as the Wi-Fi performance admission specification for home broadband customer-premises equipment (CPE). That’s good news for consumers as well as carriers’ bottom lines (and customer service staff). At MWC19, the new standard wasn’t the only good news when it comes to Wi-Fi. Click the link to find out more about Huawei’s Wi-Fi 6 solution.