Is your mesh meshing with you?

June 2019

“Mesh” WiFi systems have been the big excitement in WiFi over the last few years.  In mesh, several WiFi access points (APs) connect to each other to provide complete coverage of a consumer’s home by transmitting data through multiple short hops. However, not all multi-AP systems – as they are known – are created equal! Plume’s WiFi system uses multiple APs, but has properties and functionality so different from other mesh systems that it goes by a different name: Adapt™.  So how does this approach differ?

Intelligent:  Mesh systems are not very clever.  The design means they run on weaker processors and tiny memories.  Adapt puts the intelligence in the cloud, where computing power and memory are virtually limitless. What does a super-intelligent network look like?  It is constantly learning and adapting to each user’s patterns of usage, interference, and which configuration of the network works best in each home. It calculates the best attachment point for each client in the home and maneuvers the clients into those connections.  It learns the behavior of individual devices, enabling it to detect viruses and malware. In short, rather than just getting the network connected any old way, it maximizes the performance of the network, and thereby the satisfaction of the users. But by being cloud-based, Adapt doesn’t only improve the quality of results, it reduces the effort and time to deploy new features.  Updating one piece of software in the cloud is trivial compared to updating the firmware on millions of different networking devices in people’s homes.

Optimum:  Mesh networks use a similar flawed process to our current highway system. They build up their networking topology one link at a time, connecting each device to its nearest neighbor, and using the same frequency channel for all hops between the APs.  Like our highway system, this can lead to, crippling congestion. Imagine instead, being able to redesign the highway system, straightening roads, adding lanes, and moving on-off ramps, all while knowing what the traffic patterns are going to be. And, imagine doing that not by hand, but applying the world’s most sophisticated optimization algorithms.  This is exactly what Plume Adaptive WiFi does for each user’s network. Plume Adaptive WiFi maximizes the network performance in each home by selecting where and how each device should connect using the full knowledge of the traffic loads, interference, and data rates.

Adaptive:  Mesh systems scan the environment when they are first starting up, make a local decision on how to interconnect the network, and typically never change that configuration.  Plume Adaptive WiFi, true to its name, continuously adapts to the changing conditions in the home. Interference suddenly appears from your neighbor? Plume re-optimizes the network to avoid it.  You move furniture in your home changing signal strengths between the APs? Plume re-optimizes the network to connect the APs in the most effective way. Plume optimizes each network every night and will perform immediate optimizations during the day as well if conditions warrant.

Flexible:  Mesh systems use frequency channels in an inefficient, rigid way, to simplify the problem of configuring a multi-AP network.  Typical mesh systems use the same frequency channels for all hops between APs. While simple, this arrangement ensures that each hop in the network interferes with all other hops!  Another mesh simplification is to dedicate channels or radios specifically for duty between APs, vs. connecting to client devices. Often this locks the highest data rate radios or channels into the backhaul, preventing them from connecting to client devices.  Hard-won (and paid for) performance in the APs cannot be applied to the connections to equivalently sophisticated clients. Plume Adaptive WiFi is completely flexible with the frequency channel selections. Any number of different frequencies can be used between APs, preventing self-interference from one part of the network to another.  In Plume Adaptive WiFi, if an AP has a radio or frequency channel that has particularly high data rates, that radio can be used in the backhaul and to connect to clients simultaneously. Yes, this makes for a staggering number of ways the network could be configured, but the sophisticated cloud-based optimization is able to choose the very best one!

Insightful:  By operating in the cloud, virtually every aspect of each user’s network operation is easily available in a standard database.  Plume Adaptive WiFi enables and includes dashboards that summarize the behavior over millions of homes providing invaluable insight for ISPs to manage users more intelligently.  It provides customer support agents with the tools and data to address detailed issues in individual homes saving time, cost and money while caging the gorilla in the corner, subscriber churn. In summary, mesh attempts to resolve the connectivity issue in one static dimension, whereas Plume Adaptive WiFi offers an intelligent, dynamic and multidimensional solution. Read the full Plume Adaptive WiFi white paper here.