With roughly two billion Wi-Fi enabled devices in the world and another billion on the way by the end of 2012, according to a recent Enriching Communications article, “Wi-Fi: The Cable Opportunity,” by Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) consulting technology specialist Thierry Van de Velde, savvy cable TV operators have a real opportunity to grow their revenues and delight customers by expanding their Wi-Fi offerings.
It has been estimated that as much as 95 percent of global tablet traffic and more than half of all smartphones will go over Wi-Fi in this year alone. And, Wi-Fi is expected to grow from 36 percent of all IP traffic globally in 2010 to 46 percent of traffic by 2015. What this presents for cable TV providers is the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with their customers by providing them portable broadband experiences that leverage their current residential and business services.
Leveraging devices such as Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio Wi-Fi solution, which allows users to roam between a cellular network and a public or private Wi-Fi network, cable TV operators can offer 3G, Wi-Fi mobile subscriptions, Wi-Fi wholesale and inbound roaming at attractive rates.
Wi-Fi gives cable operators a number of new opportunities which Van de Velde identifies as:
- Expanding and upgrading their Wi-Fi public hotspots to support zero-touch access, smooth mobility, IP address continuity, flawless security and localized content.
- Merging the cable modem and Wi-Fi access point to create homespots both for inhabitants and visitors.
- Delivering higher-value services across hotspots and homespots, including differentiated quality of service, automatic connection of teleworkers to their respective enterprise intranets, linear and video-on-demand to tablets and smartphones, and operator-quality voice and video calls on Wi-Fi devices.
- Allowing devices such as cameras and alarms systems to connect to homespots.
- Allowing mobile subscribers to visit hotspots and homespots, either by purchasing a local voucher or by paying with their existing home network account.
- Capturing roaming fees from inbound visitors is one key opportunity that Wi-Fi brings cable TV operators, according to Van de Velde.
“Using the international signaling and tunneling protocols supported by lightRadio Wi-Fi, that same network can be visited by mobile subscribers — making any of the 5 billion SIM cards in the world a potential inbound roamer,” he notes.
The lightRadio Wi-Fi unit uses an authentication that associates the Media Access Control (MAC) address, phone number provided at login and permanent password received by SMS, so even devices without a SIM card can use the network.
Cable TV operators can also commercialize without a set-top box by using Wi-Fi and the latest wireless IP mobile broadband technologies, according to Van de Velde.
He explains that, “Managing the distribution of content over an all-IP network is a real challenge for cable operators since in many cases they are only allowed to stream content over their own access network to a subscriber with a set-top-box.”
That’s because private Wi-Fi networks do not allow strong enough authentication or MAC visibility. Van de Velde noted that “without stringent authentication content can be shared with anyone via social media, or even resold, resulting in limitless viewers via the same login.”
Cable TV operators can sidestep this issue with the lightRadio solution, since it allows operators to restrict the content distribution based on location, Service Set Identifier (SSID), AP, device type or time and date.
Wi-Fi presents a third major opportunity for cable TV operators as changes are made within the cable network, Van de Velde added. Cable Modem Termination Systems (CMTS) currently can only deliver services over hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) access networks, but over the next three to four years the CMTS will be split into a technology-dependent access shelf and a technology-independent packet shelf. The packet shelf can then be carried over Wi-Fi, transforming how cable TV operators deliver the last mile.
Cable operators already recognize the opportunities WI-Fi presents with many in the U.S. for instance offering apps for smartphones and tablets that allow easy access to tens of thousands of affiliated or owned Wi-Fi hotspots in congested areas. As the numbers above illustrate, and as everyone in the broadband industry is well aware, for a variety of reasons the placement of small cell technology is expected to explode in the next few years. Part of this will be driven by macro cellular providers dealing with capacity issues and architecting their networks to be more efficient and effective in getting broadband capabilities, including WI-Fi options, closer to the heavy traffic areas. The other part is going to be the result of cable TV providers looking to extend their reach and revenues.
Edited by Peter Bernstein