Plume eyes 6 GHz as Wi-Fi becomes hip again

Comcast was an early investor in Plume and also Plume’s first major customer in the United States. Comcast uses Plume’s software as part of its Wi-Fi mesh offering. The software rides on Comcast’s xFi Pods and helps eliminate residential Wi-Fi dead spots. It also provides security, parental controls, and access controls for each connected device. It can also prioritize devices and optimize the Wi-Fi traffic in the home.

Plume targets its Wi-Fi platform to service providers, and today Plume said it has more than 150 service provider customers, including Charter, Bell Canada and Liberty Global. Plume’s software powers more than 20 million households around the world and is currently averaging about 1 million new home activations each month, at an accelerating rate.

When a service provider deploys Plume’s software, all of the Wi-Fi enabled devices in a customer’s home become connected to the Plume Cloud through Plume’s OpenSync software. 

The software was created by Plume, but since it's open source it can be modified by any programmer, and that code can be contributed back to the community. Plume provides a hardened version of OpenSync for its customers and integrates it with their hardware.

“We are completely hardware agnostic,” said Plume’s CEO Fahri Diner. “We have decoupled our services from the underlying hardware.”

Today, 25 million OpenSync-integrated access points have been deployed.

The changing Wi-Fi landscape

Diner spoke with Fierce about all the changes the Wi-Fi ecosystem is currently seeing, including competition from non-service-providers, the opening up of the 6 GHz band, and new devices specifically designed for that spectrum.

He said Wi-Fi has traditionally been supplied by service providers who connect homes with wired broadband. But hyperscalers such as Google and Amazon are pushing their way into homes with smart speakers. “Their angle is to go directly to the consumer,” said Diner. “They don’t believe they have to own the pipe. We still think 80% of consumers in the United States and Canada prefer services from a good old ISP.”

Another change in the Wi-Fi ecosystem is the potential boon of more unlicensed spectrum.

RELATED: Wi-Fi fetes victory in court’s 6 GHz ruling

The Federal Communications Commission is pressing forward with its plans to free up 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed services such as Wi-Fi. And the FCC is likely to prevail, especially since Covid has accentuated the critical need for good Wi-Fi in the home for everyone to continue to work and learn.

Asked what he thought of the prospect of more spectrum for Wi-Fi, Diner said, “6 GHz is fantastic. It is a great thing for us in the Wi-Fi space. The bigger the spectrum, the more capacity we can provide. The Wi-Fi industry loves this additional spectrum.”

The only devices that will be operating in the 6 GHz band will be Wi-Fi 6 devices, which are designated as “Wi-Fi 6E” when they’re used in that particular band.

“6 GHz is a different band, a new highway for us,” said Diner. “You have to be speaking in that frequency band. If you’re in 6 GHz, both the client and access point devices have to be on same highway.”

The 6 GHz opportunity has put a lot of emphasis on Wi-Fi, but nothing prohibits licensed operators from using the 6 GHz band as well, either for Wi-Fi offload or 5G.

RELATED: Verizon aims to test 6 GHz devices with multiple suppliers

In July, Verizon filed an application with the FCC for Special Temporary Authority to conduct tests with multiple vendors of 6 GHz products.