Mind the Gap: Solving the Wi-Fi Onboarding Dilemma

Published by Marcio Avillez March 23, 2017

Now that the whirly-burly of spending over a month preparing for, a week at, and numerous days recovering from CES is behind me, I finally have a chance to reflect on some of the conversations I had with several folks from Network Operators while at CES.

I am sure the process of making sense of and drawing conclusions from a wide range of discussions is different for everyone. I need to take things in and let them percolate a bit. Occasionally this process of digesting information results in an insight. Well, on a recent morning, I awoke to an English-accented voice in my head politely saying “Mind the gap!”

What is "the gap"?

If you’ve been to London, it is surely something you’ve either heard or seen on a poster or a T-shirt. Even those who have never been to London have probably heard the saying. The reasonable question you are asking yourself at this point is:

What does “Mind the gap!” have to do with IoT, Wi-Fi onboarding, or Cirrent?

Let me explain. As consumers bring home an increasing number of devices that need to be connected to their home Wi-Fi networks, more and more people find themselves in the “gap.” If you recently brought home one of these devices and had trouble getting it connected, you know exactly what I am talking about. The “gap” is not intentional, but it exists.

If you call the company that made the device, they’ll (most of the time) try and help you with your issue. However, they can only help so much since while they know a lot about the device you bought, they know little to nothing about the network you are trying to connect it to.

The same can be said for your broadband internet service provider, which in many cases was the one that provided you with your Wi-Fi router. They may know a lot about the network in your home and very little, if anything, about the device you just brought home.

Even if you don’t wind up in a situation where one company is pointing fingers at the other (e.g. the problem is with the network or the problem is with the product), you’re likely to wind up frustrated and perhaps even exasperated.

When this happens, you are in “the gap.” Neither the product company or the broadband ISP can solve your problem.

Smart products, not-so-smart onboarding process

If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone. Our research shows that 1 in 5 people fail to get the smart products they bring home connected to their home Wi-Fi networks and that the vast majority of negative reviews a product receives are due to setup and connectivity issues.

The leading culprit is the fact that getting the name and password of your home’s Wi-Fi network into that shiny new device you just brought home is not easy. Most devices rely on a process called Wi-Fi Soft AP mode to achieve this. Tech-savvy folks are likely to get through this process successfully, but as smart devices become a mass market phenomenon, more and more people will find themselves in the “gap.”

Solving the problem is not simple. It requires getting tens of thousands of smart device manufacturers to coordinate with hundreds of ISPs globally to try and make sure that when a customer has a problem, either the product company or the ISP’s support teams are in a position to help the customer with the issue they are facing. Or preferably both!

ZipKey: Closing the gap

This is a problem we are solving here at Cirrent. We launched ZipKey at CES and we are working with product companies and broadband ISPs like Comcast to address this issue.

We believe providing this connection between product manufacturers and Broadband Network Operators is the way to put both parties in a better position to help their customers and we are working very hard and are committed to making it happen for the industry.  

When we succeed, “Mind the gap” will remain an inherently English saying relating to train and platform gaps only!

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