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Coming to a router near you soon: Celerway's plan to give your networking a makeover

Norwegian startup Celerway is aiming to make users' mobile and wi-fi usage an altogether smoother ride.
Written by Stig Øyvann, Contributor

With an interesting bundle of software and a growing reputation, Norwegian networking startup Celerway Communication is aiming to boost mobile and wi-fi performance.

Since the company was established in 2012, Celerway has developed software and algorithms aimed at improving mobile and wi-fi users' network experience.

Its work falls into four main categories: boosting network performance; optimising how to choose the best network when several are available; smart diagnostics for handover between networks; and aggregation of network capacity from different networks.

Celerway hopes to bring its software to two different types of devices: wireless home and business routers, and mobile devices.

With the former, Celerway's technology comes in the form of a custom version of a router's OS; for the latter, it can be included as licensed code in an app, or preferably, built into the operating system itself.

Protocol manipulation

The company has based its communication improvements partly on fine-tuning protocols within the TCP/IP stack, and partly from the company's homegrown method of hiding several live networks, in order to either combine them into a fatter pipe, or perform precisely controlled switches between them, based on signal quality, internet availability, link capacity, or other performance factors.

"What we've developed is software and algorithms. One part is a software module which you can install on a wireless router. This software takes over the communication streams, and controls and optimizes them, both on the IP and the TCP level. Partly, our software is working on parameterizing and optimizing the protocols, and fooling TCP into better behaviour, while other parts are about hiding that there are more than one live network available," Audun Fosselie Hansen, CEO of Celerway Communication, told ZDNet.

This functionality can be built into both router and mobile device code. This code needs to be deeply integrated in the system, as it is working on the protocol parameters and neighbouring areas.

For example, Celerway's tech is partly tweaking TCI/IP, so the company needs to manipulate the protocol stack parameters. Another example is NAT-type technology, where Celerway builds a layer between upper layer protocols and several live physical network connections, in order to control which of the connections the client uses - or they combine all physical connections into one fat pipe that is presented for the higher layer protocols and the client itself, as one connection. In both cases, the startup needs access to work with the TCP/IP protocol implementation directly, as well as the environment the protocols are running in. As a result, it looks like Celerway needs deep access to the device's operating environment.

"Our software doesn't need to get into the protocol stack, but it needs to be able to configure the protocol stack. On routers we've got this access, but on Android and iOS we haven't got this access as an ordinary app developer. This is why we're working with vendors," Hansen said.

OpenWrt router OS

Today the only official product Celerway has released is its router software. This software is an implementation based on OpenWrt, an operating system often described as a Linux distribution for embedded devices, and widely used on wi-fi routers.

"About 60 percent of the wireless routers in the consumer market support the operating system OpenWrt and, on these, you can just update the firmware and install our software. Asus, Linksys, and TPlink are examples of brands that run this operating system, and allow you to run our software on them," Hansen said.

Celerway's operating system for routers is a closed image pack that contains standard OpenWrt as well as Celerway-developed add-on packs for their own functionality; it's currently only available directly through Celerway.

Mobile device software

The second target for Celerway's technology is the mobile device market. It's a more difficult one than the router business, as the software architecture on such devices is much more closed than on routers with fully exchangeable operating systems.

"Imagine a user is sitting on the bus, watching live sports in HD quality on their mobile device. By using our technology we can make the streaming session hop smoothly between wi-fi networks the device connects to, and use LTE as an offload capacity when wi-fi coverage is too weak.

"Of course we're using as much capacity as possible from wi-fi, but if that isn't good enough, we can use extra capacity from LTE. This is some of what our technology can offer, and it does it very dynamically and optimized, especially when the user is mobile. For a mobile user the quality of the network is very varying and dynamic, and then it's important with highly dynamic algorithms," Hansen said.

To achieve this functionality, Celerway's software needs access to the protocol stack in the mobile device.

45 percent improvement

Hansen is hesitant about giving quantified promises on what Celerway's technology can deliver in the real world.

"You will experience better performance, higher speeds, and better response times. You will also see that your phone won't hang onto wireless networks that are barely working. This is one of my own personal issues: when you're on a wireless network, the phone will try to run all services over it, even if you're nearly out of the coverage area, or even if there's no internet connection behind the wireless access point. We've got a fix for that, as we can do an immediate handover to LTE as soon as wi-fi isn't good enough, or doesn't work at all," Hansen said.

He did give one figure, though: for HTTP-delivered video streams - in a typical Netflix delivery situation, for example - Celerway tested a combined wi-fi and LTE stream. Here, it achieved a reduced waiting time for video feed startup by 45 percent. In addition, the user can smoothly stream 1080p video instead of 720p video resolution on the same available bandwidth. The experiment was conducted in a lab, however, as Celerway doesn't have access to Netflix's video streaming app source code.

Celerway has tested its own product for some popular apps as well, and according to Hansen it is able to improve the user experience of Google Hangout, Skype, YouTube, Spotify, NRK web-tv, and several VoIP clients without access to the apps' source code.

Commercialized research

Celerway was born out of research performed at Simula Research Laboratory, a Norwegian government-owned research centre. A commercial spin-off from a government research lab, Celerway still has some way to go in transforming its work from the lab into a real product.

"The work we've done on developing the algorithms and protocols is the basic research work. When you do things in the lab, you can do what you like, but that's not the real world. After what came out of the lab in 2011, we've spent a lot of time in cars, driving around in order to test real-world applications," Hansen said.

Identifying the best road to market is also a challenge. Celerway is working with many different networking equipment makers in order to get its technology out.

"We've got a lot of doors to knock on these days; this is the phase we're in now. We are in the consumer market with our router software, and at the same time we're knocking on the doors of the big players. Our next big goal now is to sign up a major vendor of mobile handsets and/or a router vendor to license our software into their products," Hansen concluded.

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