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Cable's WiFi Video Attack

Craig Leddy
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Craig Leddy

Lately, America's TV screens have been filled with marionette people who get tangled in their own wires during commercials touting the benefits of wireless set-top boxes (STBs) by DirecTV.

From the cable camp, new wireless gateways are emerging that could make the puppet people even more jealous. The boxes, initially displayed in prototype form at The Cable Show 2014, offer advanced WiFi 802.11ac throughput on dual-spectrum bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz) to deliver IP video around the home.

According to a new Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, "Look Ma, No Wires: New Wi-Fi Gateways Take Video Airborne," the wireless video gateways will enable cable providers to establish a powerful IP platform for cloud DVR, branded user interfaces, video on demand (VoD) and linear TV on thin client receivers and any WiFi-connected devices.

In addition, the gateways promote cable strategies to combine residential WiFi hotspots to create community WiFi networks, which could eventually lead to distribution of Internet of Things (IoT) applications, wireless buildouts and perhaps even a "WiFi first" mobile phone play, the report says.

The wireless-centric boxes are the latest in a line of hybrid gateways. Initially designed to combine TV and Internet access into one box, the early gateway models have included multiple tuners, a large DVR hard drive, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, MPEG2/MPEG4 transcoding, and other bells and whistles.

By comparison, the wireless models are slimmed-down versions of the über boxes. They shift network intelligence to the cable cloud, so that MSOs can easily add or update branded program guides and applications, such as Comcast's X1 operating system and Time Warner Cable's Hosted Navigation platform. The boxes are also a visible sign of cable's ongoing adoption of the reference design kit (RDK), the system-on-chip (SoC)-rooted open source software platform for new devices.

Wireless video gateways can be used to drive incremental revenue through equipment charges or subscription service fees, as AT&T, DirecTV and Dish Network are seeking to do with wireless STBs. But Heavy Reading says their real value for cable providers is to retain video subscribers, upsell higher-speed Internet tiers and spread cloud-based applications. And they can help MSOs to shut up those dopey marionettes.

Is WiFi good enough to support cable's wireless video aspirations? Compared to cellular, WiFi is an imperfect, unlicensed transmission medium, subject to signal interruptions and inadequacies, the report says. But the wireless industry, with input from cable companies and organizations such as CableLabs, is pushing for better spectrum utilization, next-generation hotspot enhancements and the gigabit-level speeds offered by dual-band 802.11ac.

Arris sports an advanced wireless video gateway initially aimed for deployment by Comcast; Pace and Technicolor offers wireless options; and Cisco has developed what it calls unified gateways. Other manufacturers are offering gateways, advanced STBs or IP clients that support unique strategies. The report includes profiles of 12 manufacturers that serve the US cable market.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Insider

Look Ma, No Wires: New Wi-Fi Gateways Take Video Airborne, a 19-page report, is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/cable.

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User Rank: Blogger
8/13/2014 | 12:05:50 PM
Re: Look Ma, No Wires
Yes, cable and other providers must ensure a high quality of experience (QoE) when using WiFi for video. It's tricky inside the home, even trickier if they go outside the home. Emerging WiFi enhancements promise to improve capabilities for video.   
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/12/2014 | 8:58:19 PM
Look Ma, No Wires
What seems like a great idea may or may not work well. With all those pesky microwaves cooking popcorn and other RF interference, the infrequent interruptions may very well prove just too much for some video viewers. Wireless is great for convenience but the customers may just vote no if there's too much viewing irritation.
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