There is no doubt that Wi-Fi is a staple in most households, and for many, represents a utility much in the same way as gas and electricity. Whether it is streaming TV onto a tablet, doing grocery shopping via a laptop, or asking Google Alexa to remind you to call the doctors, consumers are increasingly dependent on Wi-Fi. In fact, Wi-Fi is expected to account for 59% of total internet traffic in 2020.
Due to this reliance, consumers are increasingly demanding a high-quality Wi-Fi experience. But despite its growing importance, Wi-Fi remains largely unreliable and unmanaged, with 63% of consumers globally reporting issues with residential Wi-Fi.
To date, managing Wi-Fi within the home has always been a responsibility of the consumer. If the Wi-Fi stops working, it is up to them to troubleshoot (i.e. reboot the router) and in the worst-case scenario, make the dreaded call to their internet service provider (ISP) to try and solve the problem. This combination of self-care and increasing reliance has created a demand for smarter in-home Wi-Fi both from more capable and easier to use retail products (like Ubiquiti’s Amplifi, Google’s OnHub, Netgear’s Orbi, Eero, Luma, and so on) and operator provided products. These retail solutions cost hundreds of pounds and the consumer is still expected to manage it themselves.
But managing Wi-Fi in the home should not be a consumer problem. Home owners are not expected to ‘fix it themselves’ when they have a problem with their gas or electricity (or broadband service for that matter), so why should they be the ones responsible for Wi-Fi?
The MDU Wi-Fi Wasteland
The demand for high quality Wi-Fi is only going to increase, as NBN has reported that there will be 30 internet connected devices in the home by 2020. And while managing Wi-Fi currently presents a challenge in detached single family homes, the problems are only amplified further when you take into consideration multi-dwelling units (MDUs) like apartments.
MDUs don’t just have one family, or just one couple who trying to get onto the Wi-Fi. MDUs will have hundreds of homes, hundreds of devices and no doubt, hundreds of connections trying to be made simultaneously, and clustered closely together. If each unit in a MDU has 30 devices and a high-powered unmanaged Wi-Fi router, how is everyone within an MDU expected to get a good Wi-Fi experience? With Wi-Fi operating on unlicensed spectrum, the huge traffic demand and overlapping Wi-Fi signals in an MDU cause congestion and interference – and it ends up being a case of luck if a consumer can get a good Wi-Fi experience.
This problem is only going to increase with urbanisation. Unicef states that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. If this is the case, then more MDUs are going to be imperative and each home is not only competing with their neighbours in the MDU, but those in the MDU next door. Overcoming the Wi-Fi challenge will be even more critical and difficult.
Bringing better Wi-Fi
The MDU is undoubtedly one of the most challenging environments to deliver high-quality Wi-Fi. This is because it takes intelligent techniques that manage the building as a network of networks, in order to deliver a high-quality service across the entire MDU.
So how can buildings owners manage a network of networks? This is where the ISP comes in to play – let’s not forget they are the ones delivering the service after all. If an ISP and building owner can work together to provide blanket Wi-Fi coverage across the whole building, this gives residents the ability to access their home Wi-Fi network from a neighbouring apartment, or from anywhere in the building. This level of service can could come to prove itself as a point of sale for building owners, as good quality Wi-Fi service becomes an increasing concern to homeowners.
However, the ISP needs to ensure that it has the right technology itself in order to manage and deliver high-performing Wi-Fi. This means having the intelligence to deal with interference and congestion on the Wi-Fi network, as well as the ability to monitor, manage and proactively solve issues on the network to ensure Wi-Fi is always working to its best ability.
Wi-Fi in action
But although it may seem like a huge challenge to overcome, better Wi-Fi can be brought to the MDU. ETS University in collaboration with its service provider and research partner Videotron, is delivering a better Wi-Fi experience to its students living in dorms. While the MDU is a challenging environment to deliver good Wi-Fi, ETS was even more challenging due to its location. As its student dorms are in downtown Montreal, not only was there congestion from the MDU itself to deal with, but it also meant that Wi-Fi in the building was competing with Wi-Fi users in the surrounding area. On average, each managed Wi-Fi router picked up 200 other Wi-Fi routers transmitting the same general location.
However, by working with Videotron to deliver the capability for the Wi-Fi network to self-organise and optimize, ETS University has been able to reduce overall spectrum utilisation, and dramatically increase the efficiency of the Wi-Fi in its dorm. The now consistent, high-performing Wi-Fi is not only supporting students for their daily needs, but it is also being used to research applications that will power smart dorms and smart MDUs of the future.
Wi-Fi of the future
With Wi-Fi a must-have, buildings owners have the opportunity to capitalise on this new phenomenon. Making Wi-Fi part of the home, much in the same was as water, gas and electricity, and taking the Wi-Fi management responsibility away from homeowners, is a great selling point for MDUs. But offering Wi-Fi is simply not enough – making the move from good to great Wi-Fi will be the way that building owners can ensure they have a successful future ahead of them.