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Telcos Beware: New Comcast WiFi Product Close to Launch

Mari Silbey
11/16/2015
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Amid clear signs that the cable industry is ramping up its wireless activity, new information has emerged showing that Comcast is preparing a business WiFi product with features to challenge existing telco commercial strategies.

Light Reading has learned that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) will soon launch a new WiFi Pro offering that will give businesses the ability to design, deploy and manage WiFi services all from a web-based app. This includes not only setting up both private and guest WiFi networks, but also controlling bandwidth allocations, setting content filters, and defining the rules of guest access with options like time limits and blackout windows. A splash page design feature for WiFi Pro also lets businesses determine what customers first see when they connect to a managed network, including promotional information that can be updated and swapped out at will.

Details on the WiFi Pro service are publicly available in two YouTube videos; one offering an overview of the product, and the other reviewing the splash page design feature. In addition to discovering the videos, Light Reading has confirmed with a Comcast source that the cable company will be launching the service soon, and that it intends to be flexible in working with multiple WiFi equipment vendors per its customers' needs.

Screenshots from promotional videos outlining Comcast's upcoming WiFi Pro service
Screenshots from promotional videos outlining Comcast's upcoming WiFi Pro service

Managed WiFi services represent a major opportunity for cable operators. On the business front, managed WiFi nicely complements Ethernet and other fixed-line data services; two areas in which cable companies have made significant strides in recent years. (See Comcast, Level 3 Flex Ethernet Muscles and Comcast Business Named Fastest Growing Ethernet Provider .)

There's also growing demand for managed WiFi services in particular, as evidenced by IDC's forecast in 2014 projecting that worldwide revenues for cloud-managed WiFi will jump from $653 million 2014 to $2.5 billion by 2018.

Comcast hasn't ignored the signs. With growth from business services hovering each quarter at around 20%, the company has been rapidly expanding its commercial services capabilities. Most significantly, Comcast announced in September that it's moving beyond the small to midsized business market to target the Fortune 1000 enterprise sector. As part of that move, Comcast acquired a company called Contingent Network Services specifically to support managed services in the areas of Ethernet, voice, router, security, business continuity and WiFi. (See Comcast Business Targets Fortune 1000.)


For more on wireless networking trends, visit the cable WiFi channel here at Light Reading.


On the WiFi technology front, Comcast has also been aggressive. In its last earnings call, the company announced it has deployed 11.7 million WiFi hotspots. The cable giant is also among many in the industry working hard to upgrade WiFi networks to carrier-grade status, improving both overall quality of service, and operator control over network utilization. (See Cable's Chance to Get Mobile Right and Comcast Confirms It Will Activate MVNO Deal.)

The WiFi battle extends not only across business locations, but also public gathering spaces and consumer homes. The evolving nature of the technology and insatiable demand for connectivity mean WiFi is an area that will continue to gain focus from Comcast, as well as from operators and vendors throughout the telecommunications sector. (See also Battle for the Home Network? It's On.)

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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kq4ym
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kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/29/2015 | 1:45:25 PM
Re: This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
It would seem to make sense and probably a good move for Comcast to expand,already having almost 12 million hotspots. It's plan of  "moving beyond the small to midsized business market to target the Fortune 1000 enterprise sector," can only help them to more quickly grow.
jabailo
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jabailo,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/18/2015 | 1:55:00 PM
Re: This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
Then of course there's the wildcard of LTE.  John Legere just removed data caps on his T-mobile network for popular video streaming services like Netflix.   With that gone, and LTE capable of speeds anywhere from 20Mbps to 300Mps at what point is your home network just using your smart phone.   And a smart phone can also used as a Wifi hub for PCs, Chromecasts, ...

 

 
Director50841
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Director50841,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/18/2015 | 9:48:11 AM
Re: This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
Fiber is not new to cable.  I have been building commercial fiber networks for the 16 years I have worked for a MSO, and the HFC network was there long before I joined.
jabailo
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jabailo,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/18/2015 | 5:05:14 AM
Re: This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
Interesting comment, I did not know that cable companies were that far along in a conversion to fiber.

But this again begs the question for both telcos and cable companies (both of whose names are now anachronisms as telephony is now Internet and video streams are now Internet), what exactly is the difference?

If both "cable" and "telco" are guys running optical fiber, do we go back to the old days of a Ma Bell communications monopoly (because it doesn't make sense to have two sets of fibers, boxes and so on, of the exact same network)?  Or more recently the system of local Baby Bells (telcos) and single provider local cable companies.




brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/17/2015 | 5:20:25 PM
Re: This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
Well, Cable is primarily a fiber network.  That is why it is called HFC - Hybrid Fiber/Coax.  At some point, they will be extending Fiber all the way to the home.  There are standards for it and it is not widely deployed in the cable realm.  But outside of a couple of carriers - KT, NTT and Verizon one would have to say the same about BPON/EPON/GPON.

I think the question I have is: Who is the target market?  Before you run on about IT challenges at the SMB, I get it.  But I have a Cisco Router at my house and it comes with a built in guest network.  The more sophisticated features of the plan - like planning portals and such - seem to me to be a lot of work for a Hair Salon.  I do assume that is the target market as I have yet to run into a coffee shop without wifi (I am not saying that there isn't one).

So to me that means you have to have a business that wants to offer customers/partners/vendors guest wifi access and don't already have it.  I see the attraction for brick and mortar retailers (thus my Hair Salon example).  But these companies have bigger IT challenges than whether to offer WiFi.  I see this as frosting when the small business problem is how to get the cupcake out of the pan.  Nothing wrong with frosting, but if you can't get your cupcake then it really doesn't matter.

seven

 
jabailo
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jabailo,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/17/2015 | 4:38:46 PM
Re: This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
I beg to differ.

When all is said and done, what exactly is different between a cable ISP and a telco ISP except the wires themselves?

And all things being equal, a network of lightweight narrow fiber is much easier to maintain, has greater bandwidth, easier to install, and has greater capacity.

Run the numbers and telco+fiber wins in the long run.

 
msilbey
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msilbey,
User Rank: Blogger
11/17/2015 | 11:16:51 AM
Re: This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
 

Bingo. I'm honestly surprised cable companies didn't move faster with managed WiFi services. Given the twin focus on commercial services and WiFi for the last couple of years, pairing the two only makes sense. Plus, this spreads the Comcast brand further, and potentially gives the company more hotspots to integrate with and WiFi-calling plans it may have for the future. 
CraigPlunkett
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CraigPlunkett,
User Rank: Moderator
11/16/2015 | 6:29:48 PM
This is about business services, not fiber v. cable
The purpose of this product is to allow Comcast Business customers to customize guest and internal WiFi networks.  If you look at the YouTube videos, you can deduce that they are using  AirTight networks' Cloud Managed Wi-Fi to offer this to their customers.  The Comcast customer pays Comcast to provide the AirTight Access Points and management so that the business itself can offer guest WiFi just as Starbucks does.

Most small businesses want to offer customized free Wi-Fi but don't have the in house IT people to do it.  This gives the venue owner an easy way to offer a customer benefit.
jabailo
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jabailo,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/16/2015 | 6:05:30 PM
Re: USP ?
The only data caps I've heard about are on cable! (Or else mobile devices).

I have 12Mbps ADSL2+ from CenturyLink and there are no data caps!
steve q
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steve q,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/16/2015 | 5:30:55 PM
Re: USP ?
I hope verizon see that if it like to play with the big player, they must rethink they idea of putting more fios data. I do not see 4glte will be able too provide the say data speed as comcast or Google or fois.
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