The perfect combination of nomadic users coupled with IP-enabled devices is set to make Wi-Fi a necessary component of always-on communications.
Today there are approximately 2 billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices in the world. In 2012 alone, more than 1 billion new Wi-Fi-enabled devices are expected to hit the market.
It is estimated that globally in 2012, 95% of tablet traffic and more than 50% of smartphone traffic will go over Wi-Fi. In addition Wi-Fi is expected to grow from 36% of all IP traffic globally in 2010 to 46% by 2015.
With users spending more than 70% of their time during a 24-hour period in Wi-Fi coverage zones, they are already familiar and comfortable with the technology.
By investing in mobile and Wi-Fi services, cable operators or Multiple Service Operators (MSOs), as they are known, can reach new generations of users with value-added services and address new market segments. With the Wi-Fi traffic transported on their networks they can launch 3G, Wi-Fi mobile subscriptions, Wi-Fi wholesale and inbound roaming at attractive rates.
Expand the business
Today, MSOs see a number of significant new opportunities, beyond plain Internet access. These include:
- 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 (CM) and Wi-Fi access point (AP) to create homespots on which the inhabitants of the house as well as visitors can access new, better data services.
- Delivering higher-value services across hotspots and homespots, including:
- Differentiated Quality of Service (QoS including speed) per user device, service, and application
- Automatic connection of teleworkers to their respective enterprise intranet (VPN)
- Linear TV, catch-up TV, and video-on-demand to tablets and smartphones
- Operator-quality voice and video calls on tablets, smart TVs, and other Wi-Fi devices
- Allowing metering devices, cameras, alarms systems, household appliances and vehicles to connect to the homespots. This creates a wholesale opportunity for utilities, security companies and household appliance vendors.
- Allowing mobile subscribers to visit hotspots and homespots, either by purchasing a local voucher (such as a day pass) or by paying with their existing home network account.
Capture the inbound opportunity
A solution such as lightRadio™ Wi-Fi opens up additional business opportunities for cable operators to capture roaming fees from inbound visitors. Essentially a homespot/hotspot federation solution, lightRadio Wi-Fi can be used by the operator’s current cable customers, mobile customers, and ‘Wi-Fi only’ subscribers, including M2M devices.
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.
Even devices without a SIM card can visit the network, which greatly expands the addressable market. lightRadio Wi-Fi has a unique authentication that associates the Media Access Control (MAC) address, phone number provided at login, and permanent password received by SMS. With the SMS-based authentication, any Wi-Fi device can be securely associated to an existing operator subscription (mobile, fixed or convergent account).
Today, a smartphone user roaming from Europe to the U.S. may pay 55 Euros for 1 megabyte of 3G data. To address this steep pricing model, MSOs in the U.S. can now negotiate new roaming agreements with MNOs. These agreements allow the MSO to become the visited Wi-Fi network of millions of MNO subscribers, at more realistic rates for the end user.
In the absence of an adapted roaming agreement, inbound roamers may still be authenticated by SIM or SMS, but need to purchase a local time- or unit-based pass to roam on the visited hotspot federation.
Manage the distribution of content
Managing the distribution of content over an all-IP network is a real challenge for cable operators. In many cases they are only allowed to stream content over their own access network to a subscriber with a set-top-box. This is because private Wi-Fi APs do not allow strong enough authentication, or visibility into MAC addresses. Without stringent authentication content can be shared with anyone via social media, or even resold, resulting in limitless viewers via the same login.
Belgian cable operator Telenet encountered this challenge in 2011 when they launched Yelo™, a value-added service over Wi-Fi. Yelo enables digital TV customers to view program guides, live or on-demand IPTV, and record programs on a set-top-box, using a smartphone or tablet.
The lightRadio Wi-Fi solution provided the stronger authentication, MAC layer visibility and QoS management that the Wi-Fi homespots and hotspots needed.
Today, Yelo™ content can be viewed on any Telenet homespot or hotspot. It is still linked to a digital TV subscription at home (a set-top-box), but with a stronger authentication scheme (Extensible Authentication Protocol for SIM and/or MAC-based) Yelo can be commercialized even without a set-top-box.
The lightRadio Wi-Fi solution also lets operators restrict the distribution of content based on important criteria such as location, selected Service Set Identifier (SSID), AP, device type or time and date.
The cable network evolves
These new and expanded business opportunities are augmented by changes within the cable network. Today’s Cable Modem Termination Systems (CMTS) are only able to deliver services over hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) access networks, so the last mile needs to be coaxial cable and the target is always a cable modem.
However, over the next 3-4 years, the CMTS will be split into 2 units: a technology-dependent access shelf and a technology-independent packet shelf. By splitting the access shelf from the packet shelf, cable companies will be able to use a single packet shelf to support HFC, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and Wi-Fi access. The Alcatel-Lucent 7750 Service Router, which today is at the heart of the lightRadio Wi-Fi solution, is positioned to become the packet shelf in this multi-technology architecture.
In addition, by transforming the cable modem at home into a combined CM/AP, cable operators will be able to deliver personalized services to both inhabitants and visitors.
A solution such as lightRadio Wi-Fi can offer cable operators operational and cost efficiencies to complement their expansion in market reach and coverage. At the same time they can offer new higher-value services such as differentiated QoS, enterprise access, live and on-demand TV, voice and video calls. Rather than just offloading data traffic to save costs and alleviate congestion in cellular networks, this solution enables operators to rise above the data storm and grow revenue by offering new services that customers will value.
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