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Cable Seeks Cures for WiFi's Ills

Craig Leddy
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Craig Leddy
12/11/2015
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How many times have you said something like this: "The WiFi here sucks!"?

Now, the cable industry is seeking to improve WiFi capability, according to a new Heavy Reading report, "Can Cable Deliver a High-Quality WiFi Experience?"

WiFi has become integral to cable service as millions of customers increasingly depend on it as an adjunct to using high-speed Internet and watching video. By the end of this year, Heavy Reading estimates that US cable providers will have deployed 14 million hotspots, including CableWiFi hotspots and homespots that utilize in-home WiFi capability.

The primary challenges are clear to anyone who uses WiFi, a best-effort technology running on unlicensed spectrum. The signal disappears, the Internet slows, downloads quit, video freezes and on and on. It all adds up to a frustrating user experience.

From a quality of experience (QoE) perspective, cable has an opportunity to provide a leading wireless experience, Heavy Reading says. By offering reliable WiFi, cable providers can relieve the pain points for today's users, support customer retention and establish a wireless extension for their existing services, as well as new revenue-based applications.

Many of the technical requirements for improving QoE are included in emerging definitions of carrier-grade WiFi, Hotspot 2.0 (branded as Passpoint) specifications for seamless roaming, 802.11ac routing and related initiatives. Cable and wireless organizations are supporting these efforts and the Heavy Reading report profiles ten cable technology suppliers that offer WiFi solutions.

But, so far, the industry initiatives have generated more talk than implementation, Heavy Reading concludes. In addition, providing high-level QoE goes beyond technical matters to address the overall user experience. Based upon comments from industry players and Heavy Reading's analysis, a QoE WiFi experience should include:

  • Single, unified sign-on for WiFi access to services

  • Automatic connection to the most applicable SSID

  • Fast onboarding and reception of bytes

  • Consistent and reliable signal strength across hotspots

  • Fast, reliable throughput for downloads and uploads

  • Secure connections throughout roaming

  • Simple user interfaces and navigation tools on devices

By improving QoE, cable can take fuller advantage of emerging opportunities, including in-home wireless gateways, voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) or other phone scenarios, TV Everywhere and other wireless video, upselling Internet services, business services and other applications.

As cable’s reliance on WiFi grows, competition between multiple system operators (MSOs) and mobile network operators (MNOs) will intensify, the report says. In addition to impending competition over new applications, cable forces are battling efforts by Long Term Evolution (LTE) providers to use unlicensed WiFi spectrum for LTE services (LTE-U). Companies in both camps are likely to bid in the 600MHz wireless spectrum auction tentatively scheduled to begin March 29, 2016. Get out your wallets.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

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KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/14/2015 | 11:03:40 AM
Re: implementation
I was under the impression that even the residential gateways that feed the public Wi-FI had QOS that cordons off a certain amount of the pipe to ensure quality signal, so I'd wonder where the performance degredation is originating. 
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/14/2015 | 11:00:49 AM
Re: implementation
The SSIDs that I see are XfinityWiFi and CableWiFi.

I do not see both them at the same time in many cases.  Not sure beyond that.  When you are in range, essentially it is to one of those networks.

seven

 
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/14/2015 | 10:49:12 AM
Re: implementation
Is it easy to differentiate when you're on somebody's public residential gateway or you're on Comcast's other cross-industry shared cable industry Wi-Fi hotspots? I thought the Xfinity SSID remained the same for both?
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/14/2015 | 10:08:36 AM
Re: implementation
It is not obvious to me that it is that overloaded.

The way that the service is offered is through other sub's WiFi.  I am unclear on how much bandwidth that I get on the Comcast network.

That is very different behavior than I get on my WiFi network which is on my router attached to the Comcast network.  I don't allow Comcast to sell my network.  The thing is that in any high density area here there are one or more Comcast nodes in range.

seven

 
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/13/2015 | 3:46:50 PM
Re: implementation
"The Xfinitywifi service (older nodes show up as CableWiFi) is extremely slow - often outperformed by Edge Service."

Yikes. By Edge you mean 2G wireless or 128 kbps? I wasn't aware Comcast's Wi-Fi was so painfullly overloaded.
thebulk
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thebulk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/13/2015 | 12:46:03 PM
Re: implementation
@mendyk, I completely agree, connectivity is a key point for a lot of consumers these days. If you can provide better connectivity along with your product that becomes part of your USP. 
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/13/2015 | 12:42:26 PM
Re: implementation
Interesting point -- for Starbucks, the WiFi experience may be as important as the beverage experience. From a business perspective, that's not a good thing as long as the WiFi is free (which it will be). At some point, then, people will buy their coffee and scones at the place that has better WiFi service, as opposed to better ... coffee and scones.
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/12/2015 | 12:29:31 PM
Re: implementation
I am a Comcast subscriber and the only way that I use their free WiFi is as follows:

1 - There is no other WiFi in range.

2 - I am out of cell coverage.

The Xfinitywifi service (older nodes show up as CableWiFi) is extremely slow - often outperformed by Edge Service.

seven

 
thebulk
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thebulk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/12/2015 | 11:17:15 AM
Re: implementation
@mendyk, 

Thats a great point, the wifi at Starbucks always suck just as in most public places. But the user experience should really be better. connectivity is such an importiant part of life today. If companies want to ensure their customers are happy they should focus making sure the user experience is good. 
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/11/2015 | 4:38:56 PM
Re: implementation
Also, most WiFi service offered by cable providers is intended for subscribers, not the public at large, right? When WiFi "sucks," it's usually in places where there are more than a few potential users of a service that's provided at no cost (at a trade show, in hotel lobbies, etc.). That's a function of getting what you pay for.
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