Cable Technology Feature Article
Cable Wi-Fi: The Perfect Storm
Last week, all eyes were on the NCTA (News - Alert) annual conference, The Cable Show 2013, in Washington, D.C. Over 12,000 professionals were in attendance, while some 300 exhibitors showed off the latest content, delivery, and technologies.
Wi-Fi grabbed all of the attention, and rightfully so. Wi-Fi has become the preferred network architecture for cable operators enabling mobile broadband. It’s increasingly clear that the growth of mobile data consumption, especially video content, will be through Wi-Fi. The low cost and high capacity of Wi-Fi gives it a clear advantage over cellular data, and cable operators are all but abandoning cellular-based, quad-play wireless strategies in favor of Wi-Fi.
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If this trend continues, the bulk of wireless devices will soon bypass high-cost, low-capacity cellular networks. Providers are discovering that small, well-managed cell systems are more flexible than wired systems, easier to upgrade, and better suited to meet the needs of rapid mobile Internet growth and cloud computing. Cable operators are in the right place at the right time to turn this shift into a growth driver of unprecedented magnitude.
Research over the past few years has shown that Wi-Fi could be a viable technology to replace cellular, and some predict that we are now at the end of the cellular era and the beginning of the Wi-Fi era. With the growth of cloud-based apps, machine-to-machine communication and enterprise services, small-cell Wi-Fi is emerging as the primary growth engine for telecommunications. Mobile data drives Wi-Fi adoption, and, from a cost perspective, it just makes sense when compared to cellular. Indeed, Wi-Fi could be the perfect storm that propels cable into its next phase of growth.
Wi-Fi can be used for customer retention and to protect cable’s revenue-generating unit (RGU) growth, while also helping to prevent subscriber erosion. In New York, cable Wi-Fi leader Cablevision spent some $100 million on its Wi-Fi network, which it then offered for free to broadband subscribers. Consumers with high video consumption habits were soon switching from the company’s cellular data plan to Wi-Fi because cellular was just too expensive and the capacity too limited for TV viewing. Low-cost Wi-Fi is enabling cable operators to fight back against over-the-top (OTT) offerings by adding value to cable broadband services.
Wi-Fi provides operators with an opportunity to improve their subscribers’ quality of experience. For example, the CableWiFi Alliance is a coalition of the top five cable operators in the United States — Comcast, TWC, Cox (News - Alert), Cablevision, and Brighthouse — that allows subscribers from each operator to roam freely in another provider’s Wi-Fi hotspot. Once signed in, a Comcast subscriber in Boston who travels to Virginia can automatically connect to the Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable hotspots available there. By working together, these operators are offering subscribers truly ubiquitous W-iFi coverage and a seamless user experience.
Wi-Fi may have some challenges of its own, such as security, handoff, and mobility, even while operators like Comcast (News - Alert) expand their Wi-Fi spectrum. Even so, cable operators are turning to Wi-Fi to enhance the user experience and software solutions that expedite the deployment of Wi-Fi services, such as tools that simplify the authorization and authentication process. I predict that we’ll see significant growth in the cable industry’s investment in Wi-Fi in the near future — and as a result, a better experience for subscribers.
Edited by Rich Steeves