Operators Now Have the (ad)Vantage™
The first Wi-Fi–certified Vantage™ Access Point device became commercially available last month. This is a milestone because it means the Wi-Fi industry is beginning to incorporate carrier-grade Wi-Fi features into Wi-Fi devices. This will benefit operators’ ability to better manage Wi-Fi networks, which—in turn—will benefit users by delivering an elevated quality of experience.
The Wi-Fi Alliance conceived Vantage™ (the Wi-Fi Alliance’s brand name for carrier-grade Wi-Fi) as a way to provide solutions to operator needs in conjunction with priorities set by Wi-Fi device vendors. Many of the Wi-Fi devices today use IEEE 802.11 features in their baseline design yet implement proprietary features to enhance performance and provide product differentiation. Although this can be beneficial to the user, it can also lead to inconsistent performance if users utilize a variety of Wi-Fi devices with different feature enhancements.
Vantage™ devices attempt to overcome this potential inconsistency by introducing a common set of 802.11 features to meet common operator needs. Such needs include:
- Enhancements to network connection
- Connection times
- Network attachment
- Faster speeds—most important in high-density, dynamic Wi-Fi network environments that have a high concentration of users.
For example, have you ever experienced slower data speeds on a Wi-Fi network when people exit at a subway station stop? Or lose your connection while waiting at an airport gate when a high volume of passengers deboard? Or find that the text you sent is delayed at a baseball game during the 7th inning stretch?
Vantage™ leverages these key technologies into a single device as a basis for its solution to operator needs:
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ ac: high-performance, dual-band operation
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint®: secure, light-touch authentication
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Agile Multiband™: efficient use of spectrum, smart steering
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Optimized Connectivity™: improved roaming, efficient transmissions
Wi-Fi Vantage™ devices offer features that provide automatic, seamless, secure access to Wi-Fi networks and mechanisms for efficient use of spectrum and network resources in densely populated, dynamic environments. It also allows operators to deliver an elevated user experience, increased data rates and the ability to allow more devices to operate on the same network without sacrificing performance.
CableLabs’ joint leadership with the operator community (mobile and cable operators) created the vision and roadmap for the Vantage™ program while partnering with the Wi-Fi ecosystem. The Vantage™ certification process has been completed, and the operators and industry are now waiting for more Vantage™ Access Points and user devices to become commercially available to improve managed Wi-Fi networks and deliver optimal user experience.
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Carrier Wi-Fi is now Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Vantage™
The recent announcement by the Wi-Fi Alliance of the new certification designation, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Vantage™, is a significant step for the industry. It is the culmination of years of collaboration within the Wi-Fi ecosystem and the result of incorporating industry established Carrier Wi-Fi requirements into industry certified Wi-Fi devices.
Wi-Fi Vantage devices will provide improved performance to users in managed Wi-Fi networks and make it easier to maintain quality connections in high usage environments including stadiums, airports, offices, campuses and home networks. Wi-Fi Vantage leverages current technologies that include Wi-Fi Alliance-certified Wi-Fi ac and Passpoint and will use subsequent releases to build upon using upcoming technologies and features. Ultimately, this accomplishment provides a mechanism for Wi-Fi operators to harden their networks to evolve from ‘best effort’ networks to operator-managed networks that will approach the reliability and functionality of mobile networks.
CableLabs is pleased to be part of the process to build this framework for Wi-Fi Vantage with Wi-Fi industry partners. We look forward to continued success in building upon the framework to benefit cable and mobile operators, the vendor community and, most importantly, consumers.
Collaboration Brings New Capabilities
Establishing solutions to the largest challenges faced by Wi-Fi operators, including cable operators, in the form of industry certifications has been the focus of CableLabs and many industry organizations. Some of the significant challenges collectively include: sticky client, secure and seamless access and connection, device provisioning, fast AP to AP handoffs in a secure SSID environment, load balancing across bands, and RF performance characterization for APs and clients.
Wi-Fi Vantage certified devices will be capable of resolving several of these challenges such as improved secure on-boarding of new clients, better customer experience when moving on a secure network, automatic discovery and attachment to roaming partner networks per operator driven network selection policy, and fast transitions across APs on secured networks to ensure subscribers receive the best performance available in the area.
Key Features of the First Release of Wi-Fi Vantage™
Wi-Fi Vantage is the technology suite operators will employ to deliver an exceptional user experience and help create the Wi-Fi preferred generation. More specifically, Wi-Fi Vantage delivers superior performance on global networks without intervention or effort from subscribers. Wi-Fi users are up and running on reliable networks with their favorite applications anywhere they roam simply by powering on their device. Wi-Fi Vantage will be the preferred service of a new generation of wireless data users by employing a number of superior service benefits including:
- Performance: Wi-Fi Vantage addresses the problem of inconsistent performance of Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi Vantage employs 802.11ac for the fastest throughput available on Wi-Fi technologies. Multi-band operations at 2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz and future unlicensed bands ensure that all available spectrum is employed to deliver a superior subscriber experience.
- Device Provisioning and Operator Policy: Wi-Fi Vantage devices and provisioning systems support a single, standard interface for operators to provision and maintain user subscriptions, secure SSID profiles and network selection policy.
- Guest Network and Online Sign Up: Operators can provision and enforce policy for guest access on Wi-Fi Vantage networks and allow visitors to access guest networks without requiring visitors to sign up each time they enter a network. Operators can dynamically establish new user accounts, and create policy and customized accounts (ie. 1-day, 30-days, etc).
- Roaming: Wi-Fi Vantage will make pervasive, ubiquitous wireless connectivity a reality for users in major cities around the world.
Improving the Wi-Fi Experience
Cable operators are deploying millions of Access Points (APs) with public Service Set Identifiers, (SSID)s in their networks and linking their networks together into roaming consortiums in order to meet accelerating wireless data service demand. Wi-Fi Vantage brings the scale required to support roaming onto hundreds of roaming partner networks throughout the world with a single subscription. Wi-Fi operators can share their networks without having to provide and manage subscriptions separately. Wi-Fi devices automatically discover and attach to roaming partner networks per operator driven network selection policy.
Roaming starts at home and extends its reach to local, domestic and international networks. Cable operators and others are deploying public SSIDs in residential and small business APs to provide extensive Wi-Fi coverage for their subscribers. Wi-Fi Vantage provides network selection intelligence to help subscribers move onto their private networks while at home, and then roam onto neighborhood networks via public SSIDs on residential gateways. This roaming then extends to large operator managed outdoor metro networks, and finally, to Wi-Fi networks across nations and continents. Wi-Fi users will see their operators providing them with an integrated, extensive global Wi-Fi service.
Wi-Fi Vantage technologies provide a number of superior service elements for operators including performance, policy and provisioning and roaming. By delivering this exceptional user experience, Wi-Fi Vantage will be the preferred service of a new generation of wireless data users.
Mark Poletti is Director of Wireless Technologies at CableLabs.