European fixed broadband providers are now scrambling to deliver gigabit speeds to their customers. But as they do, they are running into a fresh set of challenges, particularly in the home WiFi environment. How are providers and their vendor partners managing their new gigabit services and making sure that customers get what they’re promised? How can they improve the home WiFi experience?
Faster Wi-Fi connectivity is no longer impressing consumers, who want better connections throughout their homes, executives said at the Cable Next-Gen Europe event in London on November 6th. Panelists at a session titled: Managing 1 Gig Services & WiFi– Lessons Learned suggested ISP deployment of powerful lines of WiFi gateways would be required. For customers with larger homes, providing WiFi extenders that communicate with those gateways and a system that is all underpinned by cloud-based software and (often) a mesh-based architecture that can enhance and improve connectivity based on how that traffic is traversing the home’s WiFi network.
Owning the home WiFi network — or at least having deeper visibility into the WiFi network and providing systems that can understand changing traffic conditions and steer tablets, PCs and other devices to the optimal band or channel — could also prove to be a major operational benefit to cable operators and other ISPs. Since consumers tend to call the ISP whenever WiFi-related troubles arise, having this additional management layer is helpful in troubleshooting problems and reducing the need for costly truck rolls.
Though WiFi speed continues to be a key use case for gigabit services as consumers check to see if they are indeed getting what they pay for, there’s also an “expectation problem” that needs to be resolved because consumers expect high speeds to be delivered beyond the home gateway, said Michael Clegg, VP of global sales at Plume Design Inc. , a WiFi software and device maker that counts Comcast Corp. among its financial backers and deployment partners.
Stofa of Denmark is also moving ahead with 1-Gig deployments, but has likewise found that providing solid in-home WiFi performance and coverage is more important than ever, given that most of the devices that connect to the Internet in the home are doing so with WiFi, Uffe Callesen, lead architect at Stofa, said. However, it’s difficult to stay ahead of the technology curve with WiFi given the presence of a large mix of legacy devices that use an older version of the standard, he added.
And though few, if any, end devices require or use a full 1 Gbit/s connection, providing solid connectivity to every part of the customer’s home has become a paramount focus for service providers, Clegg pointed out.
Frode Elverum of Norway’s Get says whole-home Wi-Fi offerings can be a point of market differentiation for internet service providers.
Panelists here also did not view 5G, which is starting to emerge as a fixed wireless alternative broadband connection, as a significant threat to WiFi, particularly when it comes to in-home connectivity
“You’ll see a WiFi tail on the back end of 5G,” Clegg said, noting that some spectrum used for 5G services isn’t all that “friendly” in the home.
And the general story with residential 1 Gbit/s broadband services has not changed much — customer adoption of such speeds remains relatively low and, for now, have served primarily as a competitive response against rivals that run FTTP networks.
Norway’s Get started with a soft-launch of gigabit service and plans to ramp things up a bit more in early 2019 as it looks to put 1-Gig into its most attractive TV and broadband bundles. However, few customers need 1-Gig. “It’s more about the competitive positioning of our offering,” Elverum said.
“1-Gig, as a tier, is used really as a marketing tool,” agreed Eddy Mötter, CTO for Access Network, Solution Sales Department at Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd . While that’s the case today, it’s inevitable that apps and services that will require gigabit speeds will emerge. “That [capacity] space will be filled,” Challinor said, predicting that 1-Gig broadband will become the “de facto norm” within five to ten years.