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What Does it Take for Accurate, Reliable WiFi Sensing?

August 31, 2022

The rapid pace at which technology advances can be compared to a boulder being pushed down a steep hill. It may start slowly at first, but as it rolls, it accelerates and gains momentum. Indeed, many people believe that technology is evolving faster in the twenty-first century than it ever has before, owing to the exponential growth of research that harnesses the many generations of brilliant minds and advancements that have come before us. WiFi and WiFi Sensing are similar. Despite the fact that commercial WiFi has only been available since the 1990s, WiFi is now being used in ways that were unimaginable just three decades ago. Our WiFi Sensing core technology, WiFi Motion, enables a slew of new home applications that are challenging smart home innovation, driving demand in new markets, and pushing the boundaries of connected devices.

In such a rapidly evolving field, it is critical to establish foundational processes, systems, and structures that ensure robust technology. A product must not only be intelligent but also dependable. WiFi Motion is no exception. That is why at Cognitive, we have always placed equal importance on AI (artificial intelligence) and QA (quality assurance) when building WiFi Motion. WiFi Sensing enables applications in some of the most intimate environments, like your home, where it is critical that services operate reliably to ensure customer comfort. We have drawn on our leadership team’s decades of QA and software testing experience to ensure that our approach to developing our WiFi Sensing technology and its various applications is as accurate and reliable as possible while working to learn alongside its users.

But How Have We Done That?
When WiFi Motion was in its early stages, QA’s role was to collaborate with development teams to provide confirmation that the technology was 1) effective and 2) making incremental progress. Our team knew from the start that WiFi Sensing, like WiFi, would be an ever-evolving technology with future applications. That is why we needed a strong QA foundation working closely with our development teams as we built from the ground up. Initial activity focused on establishing a set of WiFi Motion’s key performance indicators (KPIs) that were simple to understand and easy to measure. Because our leadership team’s expertise is firmly rooted in radio systems and chip design, we understood the significance of testing in a reliable and repeatable manner. Radiated measurements are especially vulnerable to measurement error, owing to high uncertainty factors. As a result, every effort was made to reduce testing uncertainties as much as possible. A unique challenge we faced in this area was that there were no industry agreed-upon KPIs or test methodologies available. Everything had to be developed from scratch, largely by us. Test cases and scenarios had to be developed not only to communicate performance to R&D teams but also to non-technical personnel who were unfamiliar with the fine details. To help ensure consistency, application test methodologies were developed to help guide testing in a manner such that results were repeatable regardless of deployment or environment.

There’s No Place Like Home: Variable Environments
In this vein, we have established a number of QA houses that represent realistic home environments in order to thoroughly test our technology with real people in real spaces. Our small and dedicated team focuses on putting themselves in the shoes of the end-user in order to evaluate performance and identify limitations. The industry has established well-defined KPIs such as data throughput, BER (Bit Error Rate), and RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) as indicators or measurements of WiFi communication performance. Anyone, including R&D teams, network professionals, technicians, and end users, can utilize common industry tools that measure data throughput or map a network’s RSSI operating environment to evaluate different scenarios. Because there are no industry standard KPIs, methodologies, or tools for WiFi Sensing, it has fallen to us to research and develop evaluation standards for other similar sensing technologies and develop the best possible equivalent. Recognizing this as a significant industry gap, we contributed our experience as well as a preliminary set of KPIs, test methodologies, and tool descriptions for publication in a WBA (Wireless Broadband Alliance) whitepaper. Our goal was for this work to serve as preliminary guidance for other companies looking to evaluate WiFi Sensing technology, as well as to provide input to the industry on what future testing and tools will be required as WiFi’s sensing capabilities expand.

How to Find the Right Setting for a Space
Sensing sensitivity, or the amount of motion needed for our system to classify something as motion, is another challenge inherent in WiFi Sensing. Our flagship technology, WiFi Motion, currently allows users to choose different sensitivity levels based on the type of home that they live in. Users can add filters to analyze types of motion in their home (i.e., pets, fans, etc.), allowing our algorithms to filter out “background noise” to ensure human motion detection is as accurate as possible. Algorithms that help ensure accurate and reliable sensing require tuning that could be unique to the environment or user preference. We want solutions that work in all environments while avoiding any false alarms. To accomplish this, we define and implement real-world scenarios in test environments. Raw sensing data is collected, stored, and labeled as each scenario is executed. Offline analysis and processing of the stored or labeled data allow R&D teams to fine-tune algorithm performance.

Advanced Insights with Localization
WiFi Motion’s localization feature is another crucial piece of the puzzle to ensure our Sensing outputs are accurate. Through localization, our users can determine where in their home motion was detected based on proximity to a connected device. Users can gain additional insights by being able to differentiate motion down to specific rooms. For example, does the fact that senior mom is spending more time than usual in the living room watching TV imply that she isn’t getting enough exercise? Or are your children not getting enough quality sleep because they wake up in the middle of the night? Localization also assists us in guiding users on how to best set up coverage in their homes so that both WiFi and WiFi Motion work as efficiently as possible. Similarly, we are also working on tools that may optimize network coverage, map home environments, and improve smart home functionality.

Rinse & Repeat: The Benefits of Iteration
In the WiFi Sensing space, QA and testing are critical for learning, in-house development, and building out the technology. We can iterate and adjust based on test and simulation data to provide a better end-user experience. As well, QA testing of our final deliverable ensures proper integration by validating overall system level requirements beyond Sensing performance. A solid QA test plan entails creating procedures to ensure a robust platform and comprehensive standards for WiFi Sensing. Standardization efforts will improve technology in tandem with established QA testing protocols. As WiFi itself continues to improve, so will the accuracy and reliability of WiFi Sensing. That means better coverage, localization accuracy, new gateway updates that don’t break things, and smoother firmware push transitions.

Testing the parameters of WiFi Sensing will help secure the technology’s future by ensuring that product quality does not deteriorate over time. To meet expectations, we will be able to introduce new features, capabilities, backward-compatible fixes, and so on. We understand that each WiFi Sensing environment is dynamic and one-of-a-kind. A strong QA process backed up by standardization will ensure companies meet minimal performance requirements.

The Future of WiFi is WiFi Sensing
Telecommunications and cable companies are actively seeking technologies such as WiFi Sensing to increase the value of their subscription packages while also introducing new services that will grow and retain their customer base. WiFi Motion is a powerful WiFi Sensing application into which we have poured years of testing and QA experience to ensure the best end-user experience. With the proliferation of WiFi 6/7 and the standardization efforts of 802.11bf, WiFi Sensing will soon be everywhere. ISPs can enter this growing market now to provide an extraordinarily unique edge. Our current partners are not only integrating motion sensing, they are designing their products around it. Most plan to gradually offer a number of sensing-based applications (such as Home Aware and Caregiver Aware) to improve customer service and engagement. By having actively deployed technology, our partners are gaining extremely valuable data through both testing and usage that will be foundational in improving the technology itself and shaping the future of WiFi. Those jumping into the technology before standardization will have more data to leverage and will find themselves years ahead of the competition.

If you’re a service provider looking for the next big tech breakthrough to help you differentiate, the time has come to act. As we write the WiFi Sensing rulebook through our QA process, early adopters will have the most influence on shaping the WiFi Sensing marketplace.