Unleashing Context Awareness for Telcos to Take Control in the Connected Home

This article originally appeared on IoT Sources

With the explosion of devices, apps and user scenarios in today’s homes, Telco support teams are struggling with typical troubleshooting and marketing methods that are based on known hardware configurations, subscriber surveys and generic services. Telcos need new information and new tools to keep up, get a handle on issues, and gain control in the connected homeThey need more visibility into the home environment to gain an understanding of home user activities and preferences.

Continuous growth in the number of connected devices in a typical home results in WiFi routers having to deal with more traffic. There’s more complexity, not only with the additional devices, applications, and usage scenarios, but also a multitude of WiFi standards – all competing for limited WiFi resources to co-exist in the home environment. Subscribers are running multiple applications both in the foreground and background (e.g. cloud backup), with each applications demanding specific, and often different, resources from the router. Increasing demand is pushing the boundaries and scope of traditional home WiFi routers. 

Managing the Changing Home Environment with Context Awareness

To get in front of the issues, telcos need to take initiative and be proactive with personalized customer care and marketing. Context awareness is what telcos need to meet their connected home challenges for real-time visibility and know-how. Context awareness helps telcos to understand and deal with changes in the connected home environment. It unlocks the unique behavior in every home according to apps and devices used, activities and location in the home.

In a context-aware system, telcos gain know-how about the home network configuration and household needs including number of users, hours of work and types of activity. Telcos can understand what subscribers are actually engaged in like gaming, movies, zoom or browsing and preferences like location in the kitchen, living room, bedroom and how many simultaneous users.

With a context-aware system, telcos gather information in real- time about the home environment. The system helps them to interpret and adapt to subscriber behaviors as they need it. Context awareness enables telcos to take control and make decisions by understanding the context of every Internet session. With the right, real-time data on how subscribers are using specific apps, devices and services and their specific network environment, next-generation telcos can enter a new era of QoE and customer care.

Let’s explore how context enables telcos to monitor the home users, activities and environment to improve quality of experience (QoE) for unmatched telco control and new business opportunity.

A Typical Connected Home Subscriber Scenario

Telcos need a new strategy for next-generation connected home success. In today’s competitive market, existing WiFi optimization solutions are no longer enough. Subscribers need the ability to easily and smoothly consume content. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening today. And, the situation isn’t getting any better. Here’s a Snapshot of QoE (Quality of Experience) for a typical subscriber home scenario:

  • Great QoE for one home user who’s smoothly streaming a 4K movie
  • Low QoE for another home user who’s frustrated and having trouble to see/hear colleagues in a Work-From-Home conference
  • Telcos get tech support calls from frustrated users that tend to drive high cost
  • Telcos don’t have the tools to pinpoint issues
  • Frustrated users replace home WiFi routers, and in many cases their telco provider
  • Frustrated telco customer care
  • Negative impact to telco brand and reputation

Telcos need to provide high QoE for all broadband services. 

To deliver the best QoE to subscribers, they need knowledge of the services being consumed in the connected home. To meet the need, telcos need to evolve with smart, context-aware systems.

Placing a context-aware WiFi router in every home for QoE. 

A context-aware home WiFi router is key for telco success. It’s uniquely placed to monitor and analyze all home network traffic. With Context Awareness, a WiFi router can understand the different operational parameters of each service. It can automatically optimize and dynamically allocate resources for smarter usage of embedded advanced technologies such as MIMO, Beam Forming, or channel size.

With a context-aware WiFi router, telcos maximize QoE. Telcos get the real-time visibility needed into every home environment, services, applications and devices to understand what’s happening in the home. Customer service has the tools to differentiate between servicing a video stream, a gaming app, a conferencing session or a mix.

Improving the Home QoE with Context-Aware Data

QOE depends on context. 

Each type of broadband service has different user needs, expectations and resource requirements from your telco’s home WiFi router. Each type of service impacts the network differently.

Here’s a list of the frequently used broadband services:

No Service Type Description Resource Requirements Examples
1 Download / Upload To download or upload a file. Want as quickly as possible, but no stringent requirements typically. Bandwidth – the key factor affecting this service 

Network delay and jitter – not critical to the quality of the service

WeTransfer.com
2 Streaming To view a video steam playback. Bandwidth – critical as typical Full HD or 4K streaming is the most bandwidth intensive service. 

Delay – acceptable since it’s a playback streaming, but jitter must be minimized so the video buffer does not run out of frames to send.

Netflix, YouTube, Youku
3 Online Gaming Playing a graphics-intensive, real-time multi-player game online Bandwidth – needed, but moderately important as most processing and rendering is done locally. 

Delay & Jitter – paramount to QoE. Not fun to play if you die in the game & only know about it a few seconds later.

League-of-Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch
4 Live Conferencing The staple service in the COVID era – video or audio conferencing Bandwidth – Like streaming but more moderate for webcam resolutions. 

Delay & Jitter – factor in heavily in order to create a positive QoE

Zoom, Teams, Meet, WebEx
5 Browsing Good old familiar internet surfing Bandwidth – Relatively low(er) requirements & relaxed Delay / Jitter needs Chrome, Safari, Edge
6 Social networking Where we spend way too much time Bandwidth & Delay – With relatively small amounts of data traveling back & forth from server to client app, even basic levels suffice LinkedIn, Meta (FB), WeChat

WeTransfer, Netflix, and the rest of the brand names mentioned in this table are copyright/trademark of their respective companies.

 Understanding the impact of broadband services in every home. 

To address problems in the connected home, telcos need real-time data about the subscriber experience in the context of the home environment. With context-aware data, telcos understand subscriber needs. Data shows what they are trying to do on the Internet, where and how.

With better visibility into the home network, telcos gain insights on how to improve it including influences of the type of device, type of app, type of services consumed, network and other conditions. The type of internet connection used by devices isn’t important, whether Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), Cable Modem (CM), fiber, cellular, satellite, or Broadband over Powerlines (BPL).

Let’s see the impact of context for some typical examples of telco problems: 

1) QoE by Type of App: Lag and glitches are a big telco issue. To hard core Fortnite gamers, lag is critical. However, lag doesn’t effect a video conference as much. Buffer sizes, buffer stability and streaming resolution effect the user experience for gamers much more than Zoom users.

To deal with critical latency issues, context-aware systems use different criteria for heavy apps like gaming such as the stability of incoming and outgoing packets per second and short-term anomaly detection in traffic patterns to differentiate and notify telcos of degradation in QoE.

2) Speed by Type of Device: Speed is another source of many telco support complaints. Low bandwidth on a WhatsApp phone call isn’t as bad as low bandwidth when streaming a Netflix movie on a 65” TVBuffering effects the large TV with Netflix much more.

To mitigate critical speed issues, context-aware systems consider the type of device and buffering to alert telcos on QoE level for problem intervention or resolution.

3) Reception by Network Location: Another frequent telco complaint is reception. Bad reception on a specific device doesn’t necessarily mean that the user actually feels a problem. Or, if felt, that an extender will help resolve the issue.

In summary
Context Awareness provides a new way of work for telcos based on knowledge. By automatically collecting home data, telcos understand more about users for troubleshooting, customer care and marketing. With this data, telcos get a good idea of the QoE in every home.