Authored by Miguel Vicario, Senior Director of Product Management, Plume. Plume were winners of the Cloud Management Solution of the Year category at the 2023-2024 Cloud Awards, and the Best SaaS Product for Loyalty and Retention category at the 2023 SaaS Awards. They were also finalists in the Cloud Project of the Year category at the 2023-2024 Cloud Awards. 

As billions of IoT devices emerge annually, our homes are evolving into intricately interconnected digital ecosystems. This technological revolution unlocks boundless possibilities, but also presents a world of new challenges for those who want to simplify homes rather than complicate them.

For instance, today’s households now use 16% more data daily than in 2022 across an increasingly diverse range of devices. This surge is making smart home networks more congested, complex, and vulnerable. Simultaneously, consumers expect everything, from their 4K TV to their connected doorbell, to work consistently.

Communications service providers (CSPs), tasked with providing consistent, high-quality connectivity at competitive prices, are feeling the brunt of these demands. And as connected devices, homes and habits evolve, the methods CSPs use to manage, measure, and maintain internet performance must also change.

The traditional approaches are becoming obsolete. Today’s networks must be as intelligent as the devices they connect. The traditional approaches, based on non-real time systems using TR-69 and periodic data collection are becoming obsolete, or instead of becoming obsolete, are not able to keep up with customers’ needs.

Embracing advancements like artificial intelligence, cloud computing and adaptable solutions is crucial. They enable CSPs to enhance user experiences, rapidly deploy new services and reduce hardware reliance. These technologies are not just optional extras; they are essential for supporting smarter homes.

However, leveraging AI and the cloud to empower customers and explore new Software as a Service (SaaS) business models means adopting a more comprehensive and flexible approach to in-home connectivity. This approach must efficiently accommodate every device and scale swiftly to meet evolving needs.

Delineate Between QoS and QoE

Plume has seen the need to resolve WiFi interference issues in real time increase over 20%. If handled incorrectly, the growing demand and potential issues that home internet gateways face can lead to a greater abundance of truck rolls, support calls and subscriber churn.

Responsibly gathered subscriber data is an invaluable resource to address these challenges. However it must be precise and contextual to provide the most value for managing network quality and costs in the modern home.

Traditional Quality of Service (QoS) metrics, which focus on the raw performance of broadband connections, are proving inadequate in addressing these challenges. They fail to consider the specific needs of each device and application, leading to suboptimal connections and dissatisfied customers.

Alternatively, a Quality of Experience (QoE) approach goes beyond mere broadband performance to consider the individual requirements of each device and application within the home network. This involves analyzing a wider range of network performance factors. Thus understanding the needs of each device and adapting to changing network conditions. This detailed and holistic view can prove essential.

Leverage AI and QoE for Faster, Safer and Better In-Home Networks

By focusing on QoE and integrating its rich insights with AI, service providers can offer more tailored solutions, anticipate issues to resolve them before they impact subscribers, and enhance overall customer satisfaction. This can be key for CSPs to better maintain network speeds and device experiences despite increased network load and congestion.

For instance, providers can leverage tools like adaptive WiFi, which uses sophisticated AI algorithms and cloud data analytics to intelligently monitor and manage in-home networks on a granular level. These cater specifically to the unique requirements of each residence. Solutions can react in real-time with self-healing features that require no human interaction and greatly optimize internet-delivered experiences. This can drastically improve the QoE for subscribers while greatly reducing the time and operating expenses of CSPs.

Moreover, the use of AI in conjunction with end-to-end visibility is becoming essential to mitigating in-home cybersecurity threats. Every IoT device presents a unique gateway for bad actors to exploit. Therefore, providers must observe the entire path from the internet to the IoT device, network performance factors, and the needs of each device.

By utilizing QoE with AI, CSPs can continuously monitor network conditions, and quickly delineate between normal usage patterns and anomalies that might suggest a threat, such as sudden unexpected traffic spikes or drops in speed. They can then automate responses to identified threats, quickly quarantining impacted devices or areas of the network to thwart or mitigate the spread of malware, or other attacks. Beyond this, AI can also predict and identify potential threats based on device usage patterns and historical data. This proactive approach is essential in a landscape where threats evolve rapidly.

Flexible, Cloud-Based Frameworks Enable Limitless Scalability

Prior to the use of cloud, traditional systems for WiFi management usually meant network administrators had to be on-site at a local server or access point to troubleshoot, configure, or update the network. Or worse, leave them unmanaged. It is not uncommon to see unprotected or weakly protected access points, with default passwords and configurations. Under this framework, functions like security, routing and access point management are often handled by separate physical devices. This set up leads to a complex network topology, higher maintenance requirements and the need to manually update software when adding new capabilities.

Adding to the complexity, many legacy systems for WiFi management include some degree of vendor lock-in, making it difficult to rollout updates quickly or mix and match different technologies. Customer premises equipment (CPE), like routers, modems and set-top-boxes have also historically been tightly integrated with hardware. Major updates would often require replacing physical equipment. As more IoT devices proliferate, these limitations could prove crippling.

Leveraging the cloud facilitates the management and deployment of applications and services over the internet. This relieves the bottleneck of traveling onsite to deploy completely new firmware for each feature, enabling the delivery and management of smart home services to a multitude of homes instantly via a SaaS business model.

Open-source frameworks can also be combined with cloud to make it easier for CSPs to scale WiFi management. These frameworks are not tied to a single vendor’s ecosystem and pricing structure. However, they adhere to industry standards, making them easier to integrate with a wide range of hardware, software, and devices from multiple manufacturers.

By utilizing open-source, cloud-based technology, operators can gain a new level of flexibility, reach, and cost effectiveness. Local operators, who often best understand their specific market’s geographical area and customer preferences, can expand their service footprint. For instance, they can better concentrate on their primary services by offloading tasks such as order management and customer support to efficient back-end systems.

Furthermore, leveraging cloud technology can minimize operators’ dependence on hosting and maintaining physical infrastructure. In addition to lowering costs, this benefit can reduce the compute, storage, and memory complexity associated with managing CPE. As a result, hardware is less power-hungry and enables the delivery of optimal network performance to every device in the home.

Embracing the Future: How CSPs Can Thrive in the Smart Home Revolution

In 2023, American consumers spent more than $805B on IoT devices, contributing to increasingly complex, connected homes with unprecedentedly busy airwaves. However, this is just the beginning. Driven by breakthroughs such as the widespread adoption of WiFi 6, WiFi 6E, and the upcoming WiFi 7, smart home technology is set to continue its rapid evolution.

Simultaneously, even as their needs grow, consumers will not tolerate anything but flawless services. This is reflected in the wireless market’s high turnover rate, which exceeds 21% annually. And with approximately 3,000 internet service providers in the United States alone, it’s easier than ever for customers to switch providers in response to subpar customer service, inadequate network performance, or other common grievances.

It has never been more imperative for providers to distinguish their services and meet new challenges head-on by embracing AI-driven solutions and cloud-based frameworks. These features can enhance network efficiency, bolster cybersecurity, and – most importantly – elevate the QoE for every device in the home. By doing so, CSPs can position themselves at the forefront of the smart home revolution, ready to lead and innovate in an increasingly connected world.

For CSPs to thrive and stand out in this evolving landscape, they must act now with a strategic, forward-thinking response to the proliferating number of devices and heightened expectations.