Broadcom Corp. 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, Ruckus Wireless Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.. (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., Cox Communications Inc., Bright House Networks, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc. -- 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.
â€” Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable