5G industry news Technologies | Devices & Sensors

Is Wifi-as-a-Service set to become the new norm?

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 31 Mar 2023
  • Last modified 27 Mar 2023
Written by Scott Bicheno for Telecoms.com

Adoption is growing of cloud-based curated wifi platforms such as offered by Plume, but the concept isn’t easy to get your head around.

Also known as ‘mesh wifi’, what we will call WaaS, as much for simplicity as anything else, has been around for a few years. On a hardware level it can seem much like wireline networking or other types of domestic wifi range extenders, but the special sauce lies in the software and especially in the connection to the cloud.

For full disclosure, Plume provided me with a trial kit a while back and I have been using it at home. You do have to plug each node into a power point, but they communicate wirelessly. You also need to sync your phone with the main node via Bluetooth, which I had a bit of trouble with initially but soon resolved. Once synced, the app provides visibility into the devices connected to each node, offers some cyber security, and even physical security through the option to detect motion in your house when it should be empty.

The mesh wifi element augments regular wifi coverage extension by providing a single ID and password for all of the nodes and dynamically switching between them depending on which offers the best signal. Meanwhile we’re told the cloud smarts continually optimise those connections by balancing loads, accounting for interference and generally keeping an eye on things. You even get an email from a real human being, offering support, if one of the nodes appears to be malfunctioning.

Plume launched in the UK four years ago but is still fairly anonymous. A big reason for this is that it operates almost entirely through the CSP channel. VMO2 incorporated Plume into a service called Intelligent WiFi Plus at the start of 2021 and began reselling Plume stuff as a standalone offering later that year. It should be noted that all this curation doesn’t come for free, with a HomePass subscription costing £8 per month through VMO2. Recent new-entrant Rebel Internet seems to think Plume might be a differentiator too.

At Broadband World Forum 2018 Plume and Samsung launched OpenSync, which features an open-source version of some previously proprietary Plume software. The apparent aim of this initiative is to establish a vendor-agnostic standard for this sort of technology but it should be noted that this isn’t the only such initiative, with Wi-Fi Easy Mesh among others to make similar claims. Next week will see the inaugural OpenSync Summit held in Taipei, with Plume as the headline sponsor.

“Driven by the influx of smart devices flowing into our homes, the next decade is all about personalization and cross-platform experiences,” said Fahri Diner, co-founder and CEO of Plume, at the launch of OpenSync. “As the scales move from millions of homes, to billions of people, to trillions of devices, we believe that carefully managed unlicensed spectrum and truly open frameworks become fundamental pre-requisites. This was the primary motivation behind our decision to open source our widely deployed innovations.”

The benefits of Plume and equivalent technologies aren’t easy to communicate to end users who expect their domestic wifi to just work. But that seems to be Plume’s main pitch to CSPs: incorporate us into your broadband packages and you don’t need to worry about all those costly tech support engagements. Plume’s commercial interest presumably comes mainly from those subscription fees, so it will be down to CSPs to calculate the net benefit of paying them.

Domestic wifi has long been a source of hassle and anxiety to consumers and CSPs alike. Just ask anyone with children what happens when they can’t connect to it for even a few seconds. WaaS, or whatever you want to call it, doesn’t get a lot of publicity, partly because it’s hard to neatly define, but it seems to have a fighting chance of eventually becoming the default model for wifi deployment and optimisation.

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