Cable operators love to be pioneers and look for opportunities to leverage innovation. To date, they have successfully moved from leading in content and pay-TV to leading in fixed broadband and have pioneered in-home and community WiFi -- each time leveraging fixed access technologies to disrupt the market and grasp the new opportunity.
Once again, however, new market forces are in play. As Gartner highlights, 2.2 billion mobile-enabled devices were shipped in 2015. Plus, according to KPCB, the time spent consuming mobile media is now greater than the time spent on desktop and any other media.
As a result, mobility is now viewed across the sector as a required complement to fixed services and a strategic necessity for customer loyalty. So as true mobility takes hold and subscribers seek to consume content everywhere, delivering a branded mobility experience as an extension of existing fixed services is the new frontier -- and Wi-Fi First is the vehicle that many operators are betting on to ensure their place in this evolution.
What is Wi-Fi First?
For pure-play cable operators, Wi-Fi First is an aggressive attempt to leverage WiFi wherever possible to provide multimedia, data and contextual/voice services to subscribers. For cable operators with cellular partnerships, via full mobile virtual network operator (F-MVNO) configurations, Wi-Fi First also means that connectivity through the cellular partner's network is provided whenever Wi-Fi coverage is not available. Such data steering and hand-off mechanisms between technologies are required to facilitate a good end-user mobility experience. With Wi-Fi First, cable operators can be more intimately connected with their subscribers.
Wi-Fi First driving a branded experience
When brand is at stake, however, cable operators have to step carefully. In order to drive business with Wi-Fi First, operators need to deliver a quality WiFi experience both in and out of the home, as well as provide WiFi/cellular interworking for specific services, to ensure a consistent experience for valued customers that reflects well on their brand.
If operators get the experience wrong at home, they are already off to a bad start with their Wi-Fi First ambitions. As users equate WiFi with Internet and the number of WiFi-enabled devices escalates, including game consoles, smart wearables and smart thermostats, broadband Internet access over home WiFi networks is also growing dramatically. As a result, cable operators are often concerned with home Wi-Fi issues, such as poor streaming performance and difficulties connecting to the network. Even WiFi set-up can be cumbersome and more complex than expected.
Since cable operators can't see into the home, detect interference from other networks, or know when one device causes others to slow down, imagine this same set of problems multiplied by thousands (or millions) of potential Wi-Fi First subscribers.
Fortunately, tools do exist to realistically manage the customer home experience and WiFi performance. By leveraging data analytics, cable operators can enable both consumers and help-desk agents to qualify the home network for advanced services quickly, easily and accurately. It also helps them optimize in-home quality of service (QoS).
Monetizing the quality experience
Wi-Fi First is a mechanism to ensure the cable operators' position in new mobile value chains, enable them to glean savings, expand market engagement and generate new revenues.
One way of achieving all this is with voice-over-WiFi (VoWiFi) services. With VoWiFi, cable operators can expand their existing fixed VoIP offerings and provide greater flexibility to their customers. Some pure-play cable operators have already commercialized these Wi-Fi voice services and seen some success.
As an extension of this, Full Mobile Virtual Network Operator (F-MVNO)-enabled cable operators can complement their VoWiFi offerings with cellular capabilities to create a full mobility service. This means they can address and monetize the full range of fixed and mobile broadband connectivity needs of their subscribers. The cellular assets bring a new dimension to Wi-Fi First in that VoIP services can be offered across both WiFi and cellular radio access technologies. Cable operators are even looking at how to steer traffic between the two radio access networks so they can not only optimize the user experience, but help manage costs as well.
Convergence and cloud -- another frontier
As the concept of Wi-Fi First continues to evolve in the future, differing business models will emerge around how mobile services are delivered, depending on particular competitive environments, partnerships and MSO network capabilities.
The coming of 5G will also provide a new focus for how access and core networks can be leveraged to deliver those much needed contextual/voice, multimedia and data services across all access types. And as networks become more complex, simplification through the cloud will also be on the agenda.
Many of the functions found in edge and core networks are ideal candidates for virtualization. Additionally, manufacturers now offer most, if not all, of the above mobility components for a virtualized or NFV environment. In particular, carrier WiFi and mobile core components are well suited for this technique, due to the dynamic nature of subscribers' connectivity and demand.
Overall, cable operators stand to play an important role in emerging mobility service value chains. If operators can create a quality WiFi experience in the short term, it can not only be monetized, but those operators will also become more intimately connected with their subscribers. In turn, this will position them well as the industry continues to embrace the cloud and take the path toward 5G.
— Steve Davidson, European Cable Marketing Director, Nokia