Following a series of service provider roll-outs, including Melita in Italy, Cablenet in Cyprus and a UK expansion with Virgin Media, Julian Clover caught up with Plume’s co-founder and CEO, Fahri Diner, to learn more about how the company is helping ISPs to resolve common Wi-Fi problems.
Julian Clover: Tell me about Plume’s origins, what are you doing differently?
Fahri Diner: Our executive team largely emanates from the telecommunications and telco space. About four years ago we had an epiphany. We understood the magic that happens on the upstream network to deliver a reliable internet service to our homes. However, we realised that something falls apart between the gateway and the in-home consumer devices. That’s largely because the last few metres of the network is, for the most part, served by Wi-Fi. We wanted to continue the magic that happens in getting internet into homes and make sure that we could solve that problem with the last couple of metres.
JC: There are corners of my very small house in which I can’t get Wi-Fi. And I really don’t understand why because the house isn’t large enough to have such a problem.
FD: Managing Wi-Fi quality-of-service is tricky because the environment is constantly changing. Unlike a fibre-optic communications system, where the transmission medium is a piece of glass, the attenuation of that link doesn’t really change. In the case of Wi-Fi, things constantly change, the size of the space isn’t the only factor, interference comes and goes, let’s say from your neighbour’s wireless gateway or devices come on and off the network, each having different needs.
JC: If I’m understanding you correctly the Plume proposition goes beyond both a traditional and a mesh network.
FD: Wi-Fi must work across a broad range of devices, all of which have very different needs depending on the application. For example, for a cable TV session that is running in your living room all you need to define the quality of your experience is throughput. You need 20 or 25 megabits per second of sustained throughput. That’s what your large Samsung television is really looking for. Whereas if you’re on a call in the kitchen doing FaceTime, you want lower packet loss.
So, we looked at solving the Wi-Fi problem completely differently. The solution required a significant amount of compute and storage in the cloud and that’s how the concept of Plume Adaptive WiFi was born.
JC: This sounds like the Wi-Fi equivalent to statistical multiplexing in digital TV where a channel which needs more bandwidth – for example, a film with a car explosion – will ‘borrow’ capacity from another channel that requires lower bandwidth – for example someone at a desk reading the news.
FD: Yes, it’s similar. Think of it like a balloon, you push one side and it blows up on the other, it’s that kind of optimisation. That’s what Plume Adaptive WiFi does relative to mesh.
JC: How does the optimisation work?
FD: We look at the environment, for example interference that is coming in. In times of low network use, which for many people is at night, we check for patterns and make adjustments to further improve the system. We fully believe that Wi-Fi is not a piece of hardware that you set and forget but rather, something you need to constantly optimise. And that’s the Plume approach to Wi-Fi.
JC: Does optimisation have to take place at night? The need to change TV channels might be more urgent than that, but if that resulted your movie stopping, you wouldn’t be very happy.
FD: Now that also may or may not be a problem depending on what device is running that movie. We know that the movie is actually running through let’s say an Apple TV box. We also know that Apple TV has a certain amount of buffering capability. So, I could actually change the channels behind you and break that connection. But if there is a one-minute buffer it doesn’t matter. You will never notice it because your movie has already buffered the content. If I disrupt the communication for a millisecond or two you will not notice a thing. Whereas if it’s an IPTV stream that’s running real time, I will not touch that stream because the minute I touch it you’re going to see it. We optimise every device on individual performance characteristics.
JC: You’ve made several announcements recently including your UK launch with Virgin Media. What makes your offer more attractive to an ISP over other solutions that might be out there.
FD: You’ve probably seen Virgin Media’s Intelligent Wi-Fi offering in their TV ads that are running right now. We power that for Virgin Media. ISPs like Virgin have a pretty simple but very acute problem. They’ve been selling triple play bundles for many years, but while video is declining, broadband is growing. The differentiation in broadband is quickly becoming price so in order for ISPs to grow, and retain customers they firstly need to resolve the Wi-Fi issue and then offer all sorts of new services beyond voice video and data. And that’s where Plume comes in.