Wi-Fi CERTIFIED EasyMesh™ update: Added features for operator-managed home Wi-Fi® networks
February 20, 2020 by John Bahr
It’s been about a year since Wi-Fi Alliance® released the Wi-Fi EasyMesh™ program and started certifying devices. Since then, the industry has been hard at work creating Wi-Fi EasyMesh products and working on what comes next. CableLabs is continuing its leadership work on the updated Wi-Fi EasyMesh certification program, and now we can all see the fruits of that labor.
The updated Wi-Fi EasyMesh protocol adds a number of essential features that operators and end-users need:
- Wi-Fi EasyMesh Controller-centric collection of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Data Elements™ diagnostic data from all connected access points (APs)
- Enhanced backhaul security with SAE
- Optimized use of available channels with coordinated channel scanning (including DFS channels)
- Network traffic separation with virtual local area networks (VLANs), such as private and guest networks
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Agile Multiband™ support for improved client connections
What’s the big deal?
Since our last blog post about Wi-Fi EasyMesh, mesh APs have become almost as well known as antibacterial soap or friendship bracelets, albeit not yet as universally deployed. Many of these products work very well, especially those that have dedicated interconnection (backhaul) radios, as Wi-Fi® remains the easiest and most cost-effective way to connect these multi-AP systems.
So, what’s the problem we’re solving with this Wi-Fi EasyMesh update? Nearly all of the products not certified for Wi-Fi EasyMesh are opaque to an operator. When problems arise, the operator has little to no information available about what’s going on behind the cable modem gateway, and the customer is left without assistance. The first version of the Wi-Fi EasyMesh protocol created the groundwork for this, whereby the Wi-Fi EasyMesh Controller (usually in the cable modem gateway) can set up and configure the other Wi-Fi EasyMesh APs. Now, the updated Wi-Fi EasyMesh protocol includes all the diagnostics information (aka, Wi-Fi Data Elements™) that an operator might need to get down to the nitty gritty and fix an issue.
Wi-Fi Data Elements, you say…
In the blog post, “Data Elements and TR-181 – Connect to the PNM Data You Need,” my colleague Josh Redmore explained what Wi-Fi Data Elements are and exactly why operators need them:
“The ultimate iteration of [remote Wi-Fi troubleshooting] is a fully automated proactive network maintenance system, where Wi-Fi issues are resolved before they impact your customer. When Wi-Fi becomes self-healing, customers enjoy seamless access to your services.”
We can safely say that this is the Holy Grail of any operator-deployed Wi-Fi system, and the updated Wi-Fi EasyMesh protocol with Wi-Fi Data Elements support makes that possible in a standardized way.
Figure 1: Example Wi-Fi EasyMesh and Wi-Fi Data Elements network topology
But wait, there’s more…
Remember all the major enhancements listed above in the Wi-Fi EasyMesh protocol update? What benefits do those bring?
- SAE support in the backhaul brings more robust authentication mechanisms, increases cryptographic strength, disallows outdated legacy protocols, and requires the use of Protected Management Frames (PMF). It adds support for Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), which is resistant to offline dictionary attacks.
- Coordinated channel scanning is a combination of two features that essentially allow the Wi-Fi EasyMesh Controller to get a complete picture of which Wi-Fi channels are overcrowded and which are free for use. It includes the ability to ask APs to scan specific channels, including DFS channels. The result is that the Wi-Fi EasyMesh network will be able to use the best channels available for each deployment—not only as first installed, but continually.
- Network traffic separation continues Wi-Fi EasyMesh’s support for multiple service set identifiers (SSIDs) per AP and even per radio. However, until now, all traffic for those SSIDs was intermingled. Now each SSID’s traffic can be separated into VLANs. This upgrade helps operators take a step in the right direction toward traffic security.
- Wi-Fi Agile Multiband™ support adds a number of features, including optional support for Fast Transition roaming with WPA2-PSK, improved guidance for clients to move to another AP in the network, tunnelling of certain client-sent management frames (ANQP, WNM, Assoc) back to the Wi-Fi EasyMesh Controller, and support for association-disallowed attributes in beacons and probe responses from Wi-Fi EasyMesh Agents.
CableLabs’ early and continuing involvement
Wi-Fi connectivity is key for CableLabs’ members, and CableLabs has been working closely on this Wi-Fi Alliance standard from the start. We were chosen to be the editor of the organization's test plan for both the first and second versions of the protocol, and we worked with Wi-Fi Alliance staff and vendors to develop the certification program. CableLabs continues to help lead and contribute essential technology to the Wi-Fi EasyMesh program.
Stay tuned for more press releases and blog posts to follow the progress of this new wireless technology.
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- Wi-Fi Data Elements DRAFT Specification Package (Release 2)
- Wi-Fi 6E Highlights
- Wi-Fi 6 for Universities
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Vantage™ Field Trial Highlights
- Wi-Fi 6: Advanced uses for a new era of connectivity (2019)
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Data Elements™ Technology Overview (2019)
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Data Elements™ Highlights
- Wi-Fi Data Elements Specification Package (Release 1)
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ Highlights
- Multi-AP Specification
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED EasyMesh™ Technology Overview (2020)
- Infographic - Wi-Fi CERTIFIED EasyMesh™
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED EasyMesh™ Highlights
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Agile Multiband™ Technology Overview (2017)
- Wi-Fi Agile Multiband Specification
- Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Agile Multiband™ Highlights
- What is Wi-Fi EasyMesh?
Wi-Fi EasyMesh is a certification program that defines multiple access point home and small office Wi-Fi networks that are easy to install and use, self-adapting, and add multi-vendor interoperability. This technology brings both consumers and service providers additional flexibility in choosing Wi-Fi EasyMesh devices for home deployment.
Wi-Fi EasyMesh uses a controller to manage the network, which consists of the controller plus additional APs, called agents. Establishing controllers to manage and coordinate activity among the agents ensures that each AP does not interfere with the other, bringing both expanded, uniform coverage and more efficient service.
- How is Wi-Fi EasyMesh different from other mesh networks?
Wi-Fi EasyMesh removes the need to stay within a single-vendor ecosystem to provide the benefits of multiple AP (also called “mesh”) networks. Using standardized technology gives service providers and consumers more choice and flexibility.
- Which generation of Wi-Fi technology does Wi-Fi EasyMesh support?
Wi-Fi EasyMesh supports Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5. Members can view the Wi-Fi EasyMesh program requirements and test plan for more details. To become a member, visit our membership page.
- Is Wi-Fi Data Elements just for service providers and operators?
While Wi-Fi Data Elements can benefit any network administrator, including an individual managing his or her own home network, its main purpose is to help service providers and operators provide high quality Wi-Fi service. Periodic delivery of a standardized data model helps those responsible for ensuring good service to more quickly and proactively address upcoming issues and provide solutions.
Tools vendors also benefit from Wi-Fi Data Elements because they can develop to an accepted standard and reduce the number and complexity of proprietary implementations.
- What is the Wi-Fi Alliance specification for Wi-Fi EasyMesh?
The Wi-Fi EasyMesh certification program is based on the Wi-Fi Alliance Multi-AP Technical Specification. It defines technologies to create an easy to install, self-adapting Wi-Fi home or small office network.
- Is my privacy protected? Does the data model take my personal information?
The information collected and sent in this program is high-level and does not interfere with privacy concerns. How many devices are on the network, use of bandwidth, signal strength measurements, and free airtime are examples of the types of data collected.
- What is the difference between Wi-Fi EasyMesh and Wi-Fi Home Design?
The goal of both certification programs is to provide better Wi-Fi user experience and extended coverage in home networks. These two programs complement each other – a Wi-Fi Home Design floorplan could employ a Wi-Fi EasyMesh network. The difference is that Wi-Fi Home Design helps identify the best locations for each AP in a home whereas Wi-Fi EasyMesh defines the protocols used for intra-AP communication to establish a smart, self-forming network.
- Is there a standard protocol or transport method to get the Wi-Fi Data Elements models from a device?
There is a JSON/HTTP standard method of obtaining the Wi-Fi Data Elements model from a device.
- What other backhaul link technologies will Wi-Fi EasyMesh work with?
Wi-Fi EasyMesh networks enable the use of other connectivity technologies supported by the IEEE 1905.1 protocol.
- How does a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband device help the user experience?
Wi-Fi Agile Multiband devices enable the exchange of information. This exchange enables access points (APs) to guide client devices toward the best Wi-Fi environment for that device. In addition to steering client devices to another AP that is underutilized, APs can steer clients to other, less congested frequency bands or channels. The result is a more balanced network which in turn improves performance and user experience.
- Don’t devices already do this?
Many device makers and operating systems vendors do employ some of these capabilities. However, Wi-Fi Agile Multiband is standards-based, ensuring interoperability across vendors.
- How do 802.11k and 802.11r contribute to reduced latency in Wi-Fi Agile Multiband enabled networks?
Both technologies reduce the time it takes a client to roam between APs in the same network.
- 802.11k reduces roaming time by allowing the client to rapidly determine which AP it should roam to next so when the client is ready to roam, it has a better idea of where to roam.
- 802.11r also enables faster roaming by allowing encryption keys to be stored on network APs so the client does not need to perform the complete authentication process every time it roams to a new AP within the network.
- What is the difference between fast transitioning offered by Wi-Fi Optimized Connectivity and that offered by Wi-Fi Agile Multiband?
Both enable faster roaming. Wi-Fi Agile Multiband uses Fast Basic Service Set (BSS) Transition Management (also known as FT). FT functions within the same Wi-Fi network (Extended Service Set, ESS), while Wi-Fi Optimized Connectivity utilizes Fast Initial Link Setup (FILS) Authentication to enable fast authentication within the same network, or two different networks.
- What are some consumer applications for Wi-Fi Agile Multiband?
Wi-Fi Agile Multiband is for any Wi-Fi device because it enables more intelligent use of Wi-Fi network resources to help the device maintain the best connection – whether the device is moving throughout a Wi-Fi network or resides in a specific location. Tablet users walking through an office environment or home with multiple access points (APs) will connect to the APs that provide the best connection. Smart TVs can ensure that HD video streaming works seamlessly by moving to 5 GHz if the 2.4 GHz band becomes congested. Smart appliances, gaming systems, and more can benefit from the ability to monitor the Wi-Fi environment and move to new APs or frequencies when interference or congestion occurs.
- How does a user turn on WMM-Power Save?
If implemented correctly, WMM-Power Save will activate automatically when a Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ for WMM-Power Save client device is communicating with a Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ for WMM-Power Save access point. There is no action needed from a user.
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John Bahr, principal architect on the wireless team at CableLabs, focuses on all things wireless, including home and managed Wi-Fi and other access technologies. Prior to joining CableLabs, John developed four generations of VoIP Wi-Fi phones for Spectralink and served as vice president of engineering for Geomation. John has also worked on the U.S. air traffic control system and the U.S. Space Station Freedom while at IBM Federal Systems Division.