3 Things Every Product Manager Needs To Know About The Changing Residential Wi-Fi Landscape

Published by Marcio Avillez April 12, 2017

“I love it when a plan comes together!”

That was Hannibal Smith’s go-to line when things finally went his way after suffering through a series of unforeseen setbacks. Mind you, this wasn’t happenstance.  

In almost every episode, the A-Team had a plan that was well-thought-out but somehow they seemed to always hit a snag once their plan was tested against reality. In the TV series, the A-Team always caught a break, ending the show on a positive note; in real life, that’s not always the case.

If you’re a product manager for a consumer product that relies on Wi-Fi, even if you’ve not heard of Hannibal Smith or the A-Team, you are probably familiar with the following typical plot line: a well-designed Wi-Fi connected device is launched and all of a sudden, the reality of Wi-Fi in the wild (or more accurately, in broadband homes) presents itself.

Yeah, you’ve probably heard this story before:

  • Wi-Fi connections that are hard to establish and maintain.
  • Signal strength levels that are less than ideal.
  • Users that know little about their Wi-Fi routers, SSIDs and passwords (and are happy to stay that way).
  • Routers that don’t always behave as expected and occasionally leave your device stranded on an island with no connectivity.

Sound familiar? Well, you are finally going to catch a break.  

That’s because almost every residential broadband network service provider in the world has finally begun to realize that the strategy of spending as little as possible on that Wi-Fi gateway they give to their broadband customers is flawed.  And they are now doing something about it.

This may be because they are listening closely to their customers and beginning to understand how important that Wi-Fi connection is to them (and, coincidently, to your products). It could also be because they realize that Wi-Fi is a big contributor to their support costs or that wireless, self-installed equipment can significantly reduce customer installation costs. Regardless of their motivation, this is a big break for companies that develop, market and sell consumer products that rely on Wi-Fi.

Why Should You Care About The Changing Landscape?

Well for starters, there are almost 1 billion broadband homes in the world and the vast majority of these homes use a Wi-Fi gateway or router provided by their broadband network service provider.  These broadband providers are increasingly making the Wi-Fi gateway an essential element of their residential broadband service.  As a matter of fact, these gateways significantly outnumber the retail router market (routers that customers buy separately from the service) and this is unlikely to change in the near future.  A recent consumer survey commissioned by AirTies found that nearly 80% of consumers prefer that their in-home wi-fi gear be provided by their broadband provider.

So whatever broadband network service providers decide to do with regards to in-home Wi-Fi in the next 2 to 3 years, it will certainly matter to your products and your customers.

3 Changes In Residential Wi-Fi Over The Next 3 Years And What They Mean For You

Customers change their network name and passwords more frequently.

Broadband providers are rolling out online portals and apps for their customers to manage their connected home. These portals and apps allow customers to more easily access, see, and change their SSID and password.  Combine this capability with an increase in awareness regarding the importance of securing your home Wi-Fi network, and we are likely to see consumers change their SSID and/or Password more frequently than they do today.

In this world, using SoftAP and WPS for Wi-Fi onboarding will no longer suffice. It isn’t enough to get a product connected; it now needs to have a resilient connection that can handle the increased likelihood of a network name or password change without being banished to the island of unconnected devices.

Better coverage, everywhere in the home.

Wi-Fi coverage inside the typical home is going to improve significantly.  Many broadband network service providers have already announced next-generation Wi-Fi gateways that are specifically designed to work in the residential market, have better radios (we are even starting to see 8x8 MIMO in the new generation of products), and have mesh Access Point nodes which are integrated into the system for larger homes or those with harder-to-cover spaces.

The resulting increases in wireless connection throughput resulting either from the improved coverage or the proliferation of new Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11ac and 802.11ad will allow you to seriously consider whether your product still needs to have an ethernet port.  Many product managers will choose to save the BOM cost and rely on Wi-Fi for all a device’s connectivity needs.

The proliferation of wireless mesh will mean that there will be more access points under the same SSID for your products to connect to.  Your product's network selection algorithms will need to be able to handle this new reality.  For some products, this may require some cleanup to code that might not have taken into account some of the use cases that are now becoming common but that were corner cases at the time the code was written.  You may want to conduct a review to make sure your product doesn’t suffer from this issue.

Out-of-the-box experience will become the gating factor in customer satisfaction.

No matter how well designed your product may be, onboarding a connected product is the one pain point that remains once the coverage and the performance of the Wi-Fi network in the home is improved. So reducing the complexity required to connect a product to Wi-Fi and improving its ability to remain connected become a critical determinants of a product’s likelihood of success with consumers.

With Zipkey, Your Plan Will Always Come Together

Cirrent’s ZipKey is designed to help connected products succeed in this brave new Wi-Fi world.  ZipKey enables products to connect instantly, simply and securely.  Additionally, Cirrent’s partnerships with ISPs will expand the ZipKey service coverage to over 100 million homes this year and enable your products to remain connected even if your customers change their WiFi SSID or password. 

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