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How to Monetize WiFi (Part 1)

Alan Breznick

Now that the time has come for cable operators to start making some real money off WiFi, the big question is how.

In an earlier blog post, I noted that the US cable industry has set up millions of WiFi access points across the land, enabling operators to begin taking financial advantage of their still swiftly growing wireless assets. Indeed, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) alone has now deployed more than 11 million WiFi hotspots throughout the US, while Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) has deployed more than 1.1 million hotspots just in the greater New York metro area.

Yet, with the notable exception of Freewheel, Cablevision's fledgling WiFi-only talk, text and data service, no major US MSO has really attempted to monetize WiFi yet, despite strong interest among consumers, due to a mix of technical, operational and cost factors. (See Time to Monetize Cable WiFi.)

So how can cable providers optimize their wireless networks and make the big leap to monetization? No matter whether they're considering a bold WiFi-only strategy like Cablevision, or a still-ambitious WiFi-first approach like Comcast and other MSOs appear to be weighing, the first major step is to transform their current best-effort WiFi service into superior carrier-grade WiFi that can fully compete with cellular service.

While the experts may differ on some of the smaller details, carrier-grade WiFi generally means mobile service that is based on such technical standards as HotSpot 2.0/Passpoint from the Wi-Fi Alliance and various network and device standards from such industry groups as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and Wireless Broadband Alliance . For cable operators, carrier-grade WiFi also entails meeting network engineering and interference standards from CableLabs .

All of these standards are designed to ensure that WiFi network coverage is consistent, subscriber mobile devices can automatically detect the network, all devices can be authenticated and served, calls can be automatically handed off from one hotspot to another and subscribers can roam freely and seamlessly from one area to another, among other things. While perhaps a tall order, it can be done, as such major MSOs as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks have begun to show with their embrace of the Wi-Fi Alliance's Passpoint certification program for mobile devices.

Need to know more about the opportunities and challenges posed by cable WiFi? Then check out the agenda for Light Reading's breakfast seminar, Winning With WiFi: How Cable Operators Can Optimize & Monetize Their WiFi Networks, October 14, 2015, at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, co-located at Cable-Tec Expo.

To deliver carrier-grade service, cable operators should make use of dynamic transmit power controls, automated channel selections, band steering and other WiFi technologies as much as possible to minimize costs and maximize network coverage. Because there can be so many WiFi access points with so many unknown elements, careful network planning and intelligent client management are crucial. Cable operators need to capture a wide range of device and access point data and create a holistic view of all of this information. Doing so can lead to a great enhancement of the customer's quality of experience (QoE). (We'll have much more to say about QoE in the next post in this series.)

In the move up to carrier-grade WiFi, cable operators should also look at overhauling and operationalizing their back-office systems. This action will enable higher levels of efficiency and transparency across multiple systems, including network rollout, inventory, provisioning, service assurance, customer management, and network and subscriber analytics. Such an effort calls for a complete, end-to-end framework for developing and deploying WiFi networks. And it becomes even more important as operators seek to scale their networks and engage further with customers.

In fact, Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) estimates that, based on its experience in the field, the adoption of a consolidated network rollout system can lead to a 25% reduction in rollout costs. Just as notably, this move can lead to a 50% reduction in network design time.

So those are some key ways that cable operators can start upgrading their young WiFi networks to fully mature carrier-grade status and bring their monetization dreams closer to fruition. In the final blog post of this series early next month, we'll address some other key steps that operators should take, like monitoring and improving the customer's QoE and figuring out their business models and revenue splits with partners and other players.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

This blog is sponsored by Amdocs.

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