Europe's cable operators have the tools and the determination to make 2013 a key year for public access Wi-Fi services, including inter-operator roaming agreements.
That's the view of Peter Percosan, managing director of Cable Europe Labs, which offers technical guidance to, develops specifications for and undertakes certification testing on behalf of the region's operators.
He says that he and his small team spent much of 2012 developing a set of standard specs for Wi-Fi deployments that could be adhered to by Europe's cable operators so that they're all be working on the same roadmap and "the business guys can then go out and broker agreements," particularly related to shared Wi-Fi access on a national and international level.
That's been an important development because it was quite clear during the recent Cable Congress 2013 event in London that operators in Europe and North America are keen on enabling Wi-Fi roaming -- that is, allowing cable customers to seamlessly hook up to public access Wi-Fi points (including those housed in customers' homes and businesses) using their subscriber IDs when they're on the move, whether regionally, nationally or internationally. (See What's Cookin' at Cable Congress.)
In North America, major MSOs have already been busy brokering deals amongst themselves. (See Cable Goes Big With Wi-Fi Roaming.)
Now Europe's players want to follow suit.
Some European operators are further ahead than others with their Wi-Fi plans and all began with their own ideas about how to include Wi-Fi as part of their service packages. "There are a number of operators doing different things … using different platforms," says Percosan.
For example, Virgin Media Inc. in the U.K. has been building out public access Wi-Fi networks in cities and at major London subway stations. (See Virgin Lands City Wi-Fi Deals and EE, Vodafone Use Virgin's Subway Wi-Fi.)
Meanwhile, its prospective parent, Liberty Global Inc., is already shipping dual-SSID Wi-Fi access chips (which split Wi-Fi signals into two independent, secure signals, one of which can then be used for public or "community" access) in its new Horizon TV gateways that are currently being rolled out in multiple European markets. (See Liberty Global Embarks on New TV Horizon and Liberty Makes $23.3B Play for Virgin Media.)
In Belgium, Telenet's Homespot initiative, which enables home gateways to be used for both private and public use, now involves more than 600,000 devices, while in the Netherlands, Ziggo B.V. has been checking out the potential for turning home gateways into community Wi-Fi hotspots using technology that adheres to the Cable Europe Labs specifications. (See Ziggo Tries AlcaLu's lightRadio Wi-Fi, Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home and Intel's Docsis 3.0 Chips Also Do Wi- Fi Sharing.)
The idea now is to help bring all the disparate cable Wi-Fi efforts together so that cross-border access might be possible. "European operators are now looking at AAA [authentication, authorization, and accounting] compliance so they can consider Wi-Fi roaming … the cable operators see value in having international connectivity between each other," notes Percosan.
There's still plenty of work to be done to help the operators enable their customers to roam the Wi-Fi access points of partner companies, says Percosan. "[Wi-Fi] was a big effort in 2012 and it will be so again this year, as we have to ensure that our specifications work with other initiatives … we're working very closely with CableLabs. We also need to make sure that what we were doing is tied in with the Hotspot 2.0 specifications -- our specs are Passpoint-aware -- and also with what Comcast Corp. is doing." (See Wi-Fi Alliance Tests Devices, Gear.)
But there's more on Percosan's 2013 agenda than wireless access. "The top three initiatives for CableLabs Europe this year are Docsis 3.1, Wi-Fi and RDK [reference design kit], which has a lot of momentum and support," he notes. (See Who's on Board With Comcast's Set-Top Kit? and Docsis 3.1 Targets 10-Gig Downstream.)
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading