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Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
9/7/2012
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Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) has introduced "community" Wi-Fi software that turns wireless Docsis 3.0 cable modem gateways into semi-public hotspots that can be used by roaming data service users.

The software, already being tested by Dutch MSO Ziggo B.V. , enables the home gateways to share Wi-Fi bandwidth between the customer in the home and other authorized customers who are looking for a connection while they're on the move. Broadcom says its community Wi-Fi software is smart enough to authenticate and connect roaming customers without them having to log into the hotspot manually.

The concept mirrors the developments of Fon Wireless Ltd. , which has been working with operators in Europe on this very concept for some years. (See Smartphone Revolution Helps FON Find Acceptance, Belgacom, Fon Roll Out WiFi Network, BT FONs in WiFi Hotspots and Google, Skype Back WiFi Startup.)

The idea has some interesting competitive and operational implications. Cable operators, in response to what's historically been a telco advantage, have been building out their own Wi-Fi networks, and, in some cases, establishing roaming deals with other cable operators. Turning home-installed Docsis 3.0 gateways into community Wi-Fi hubs will help them fill in some significant gaps without having to buy and install additional, dedicated Wi-Fi access points from companies such as Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Ruckus Wireless Inc. (NYSE: RKUS) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). (See Cable Goes Big With Wi-Fi Roaming .)

Broadcom has released the software just as cable operators start to introduce data caps and usage-based broadband policies. The system would also ensure that any bits being consumed by a roaming customer would not get applied to the cap of the customer that is leasing the Docsis 3.0 wireless gateway from the cable operator. (See Comcast Turns On Usage-Based Broadband, Mediacom Unleashes Usage-Based Broadband and Usage-Based Broadband Returns to TW Cable .)

Ziggo is the only announced MSO that's using Broadcom's new software, but it should become a "fairly ubiquitous" feature in Docsis 3.0 wireless gateways in the next 12 to 18 months, predicts Jay Kirchoff, Broadcom's VP of marketing for cable broadband.

Why this matters
This community feature is expected to become more prominent as cable operators try to expand their Wi-Fi networks and fill gaps in individual residential neighborhoods. Although a European MSO is among the first to try it out, the five U.S. cable operators that recently struck a Wi-Fi roaming deal -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , Bright House Networks , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) -- are logical candidates for Broadcom's new technology.

And it'll be interesting to see what kind of uptake there is from the MSO community now that smartphones with Wi-Fi connectivity are increasingly ubiquitous, meaning many customers are able to connect to Wi-Fi access points wherever they go.



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— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable



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AESerm
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AESerm,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:21:41 PM
re: Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home


Any insight on how on operator would design/deploy a roaming network like this? Do all subs get the software? Only a few? Incentives offered to those who accept? 

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:21:40 PM
re: Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home


It would be executed using a firmware upgrade, but BRCM isn't saying much about how the operators would roll this out and if it would be opt-in or just force-fed and activated... one thing I didn't ask but will now was whether this software could be applied to D3 gateways that use Intel silicon, since there are going to be plenty of those out in the field as well. Hope to get some answers from Ziggo as well on how they are doing it and how they are using it in the early going. JB




 
paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:21:40 PM
re: Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home


How about...Chances that the wrong person is charged with the bandwidth against their cap?


 


seven

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:21:39 PM
re: Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home


Kirchoff also told me that there's no technical reason why this software couldn't be ported to D2.0 gateways, but said there are some performance reasons to avoid that. Most of the faster Wi-Fi chips, like 11n and soon 11ac, are going into D3 products, and the old crusty D2 gateways, the few that are even out there, used 11b, so when you start splitting up that capacity, something like 10Mbit/s aggregate, there's not much left for the homeowner and the person who is roaming.


he also explaind that the software includes some security and separation features that partition the traffic from the homeowner and the roamer, so it looks like two separate networks running on the same hardware. So that interference-avoidance element will play into how the system ensures that the usage of the roamer isn't being applied to the usage cap of the homeowner. JB


 

 


 

yaronwar
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yaronwar,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:21:33 PM
re: Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home


Few months ago the Israeli telco, Bezeq, started a service like this. Wifi roaming using xDSL modems.


You need to register to the service and allow others to use your modem - then you can roam yourself. They call it the "social network" and ask people to join in a marketing campaign. The roaming is seamless once you registered. Also, you can get up to 1Mb/s when roaming on other's modem.

CraigPlunkett
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CraigPlunkett,
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2012 | 5:21:33 PM
re: Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home


There's a whole suite of backend services that need to be implemented by the MSOs that adopt this.  It seems to be a pre-packaged version of what Fon does with BT and its other European MSO partners.  


There's no real business case for pushing this system onto older gateways as the previous comments have pointed out.


The accounting separation of private and other traffic should be a trivial exercise for the MSO if wireless traffic is separated at the SSID level, tunneled through the MSO's and the proper backend accounting is built.  It's the same architecture as CMCSA,CVC,TWC federation done at the residential gateway.


This might be useful for MSO retention in an urban residential area combined with an OptimumWiFi like deployment in public and commercial areas.

patentchoi
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patentchoi,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:20:59 PM
re: Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home


The technology has potential but it needs some big players to come together to make it a reality. More than the home gateways access-points, the ones at public places will be the ones that can make a huge difference. Besides, coverage on freeways is crucial (especially US market) and that is a much tougher problem to address for wifi.


The deployment progress has been too slow so far, lets hope it gets better.

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