Cable Wi-Fi

Cable Seeks Cures for WiFi's Ills

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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danielcawrey 12/11/2015 | 3:47:33 PM
Re: implementation In the past, I had not thought too much about the impact WiFi could have on cable providers. But this article makes it plainly clear just how important WiFi can be to improving the customer experience overall. 

I hope that service providers find some really useful ways to improve the experience of cable by deploying interesting WiFi solutions. 
inkstainedwretch 12/11/2015 | 2:54:13 PM
implementation Implementation should follow the introduction of QoS, which is what I think we're getting at here. But the other problem is not delineating use cases. Reliance on wifi in home and office will grow, and I'm currently in the camp that believes combo wifi/cellular hotspots will be very useful.  I think we all make the situation confusing when we cite the number of cable wifi hotspots, making it sound like there's so much public access available when there isn't. Millions of those hotspots are dual private/public access points in subscribers' homes (as noted), and many (perhaps most?) are not located where they're useful for public coverage. Public coverage, except along some commuter corridors and urban areas with high foot traffic (mostly in The Sprawl) is lacking. It doesn't seem useful to stoke expectations of public coverage, even if done inadvertently. -- Brian Santo

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