DENVER -- Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies -- Cable operators already are wireless operators via their extensive and improving WiFi hotspots. But their best bet to become full-fledged wireless providers is to work with partners and focus first on smart home and smart city services, according to a panel here this week.
As Jefferson Wang, senior partner for wireless at IBB Consulting, explained it, cable operators are working to move from inside the home to outside, while the wireless operators want to move from outside to in. That is where the battleground is today. WiFi is the clear platform for wireless in the home, and cable undeniably has a stronghold there.
WiFi is also improving significantly, Steve Harris, senior director of advanced network technologies at SCTE (Society for Broadband Professionals) /ISBE, said, with technologies like authentication, radio resource management, advanced throughput, beamforming, multi-user MIMO, 802.11K for access point discovery, 802.11R for fast and secure roaming and Passpoint for access point discovery.
That said, the bigger issue around using WiFi as a jumping-off point for wireless service is the ability to "operationalize" it and sell it in a way that's meaningful to the bottom line of the company, according to Margaret Bellville, the former COO of Charter Communications Inc. and current vice president of Hitachi Consulting . Past attempts by cable operators to sell wireless as an ad hoc service have failed, and partnerships with wireless operators have also been tricky to pull off, she said.
"Cable hasn't launched a new product since 1988 with digital and data," she said. "We have to earn our stripes and learn how to get it to market in a material way to impact the bottom line of our companies."
For that reason, partnering with wireless operators is a scenario that should be appealing to many cable companies -- and should be to wireless-only operators as well. Put simply, the cable industry is in a strong position to partner because you can't do wireless without wires, said Charles Cheevers, chief technology officer for advanced development at Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS).
"Everyone is trying to force M&A because of that -- you must have a wire to do wireless," Cheevers said. Partnerships, however, are also a viable option, and Wang pointed out wireless and cable providers already partner on backhaul. Cable companies have to push their position so that when they come to the bargaining table, they look like attractive partners rather than just acquisition targets, he said.
"If you can fortify WiFi, create a neutral host, fortify backhaul and negotiate it, they'll want to make a deal in certain geographies," Wang said. Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, spectrum is also presenting a new opportunity for the cable companies to use shareable, licensable 3.5Ghz spectrum to launch service. (See Shared Spectrum for 5G New Radio and 5G Spectrum Sharing Brings Innovations.)
"It's mutually beneficial to do inside-out, outside-in relationships," Cheevers noted, adding that neutral host in the 3.5GHz band levels the playing field. "There’s a win-win, but also some competitive elements that will emerge in terms of who has the most bits and who has the most eyeballs."
The panelists agreed that one of the best way for cable companies to get started in wireless, rather than go full-blown 5G like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is planning to do, is to focus on smart home, smart city and enterprise wireless services that they are already good at. CBRS spectrum will be particularly useful for smart city applications like connected traffic lights, Cheevers suggested, and Bellville said that campuses, universities and ball parks will also be good areas to showcase cable wireless. (See Comcast: Our Network's Ready for 5G.)
"Maybe the opportunity is starting at large companies, corporations, campuses and those through business services," she said. Wang agreed that in the enterprise, the best place to sell wireless service was to municipalities, schools and hospitals because "you get the entire ring."
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms