Passpoint, IMS Lead Cable WiFi Moves

Leading the Way with Carrier WiFi The cable industry is well on its way to meeting a challenge that has vexed it for decades: How to round off its service offering with an effective wireless offering.

The industry is taking the lead, or so it appears, in creating a robust North American - and, eventually, worldwide - WiFi mesh that will act like the cellular network and, in many cases, work with it. Indeed, much of the industry’s future rests on making the right WiFi moves. “At this point, obviously the future is about wireless connectivity,” said Dave Wright, the advanced technologist for Ruckus Wireless. “If operators want to remain relevant, they need a solution in that space. For cable operators who don’t own wireless spectrum ... their solution ... is WiFi.”

The keys to the evolution are an evolving set of standards established by The Wi-Fi Alliance and the maturation of a core technology called the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).

The cable industry already has done a lot of work on WiFi. Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other operators have a long track record of increasingly covering their footprints with public access points, and the activity has moved indoors.

Boingo Wireless (NASDAQ:WIFI) CTO Derek Peterson said that the industry is moving in the right direction. “…[A]bout a year or two ago when we finished the Passpoint trials for phase 1, I warned the carriers that if they didn’t start moving soon the cable operators would end up embracing WiFi and be able to make inroads into the MNO [mobile network operator] space ... using WiFi,” he said. “That’s exactly what I see happening.”

That nascent infrastructure is starting to support actual devices. Cablevision’s Freewheel is an early example of the interest in WiFi voice. The service, which was introduced in January, is a phone that relies entirely on the Internet via WiFi. That limits its functionality, while at the same time showing how extensively Cablevision - and its partner operators - have built out their networks.

The WiFi industry is putting the structural pieces in place to use WiFi - and cable operators’ networks - as valuable enablers. A key is The Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint program. Passpoint enables subscribers to log in once and roam to other participating networks without reauthorizing. Late last year, it added capabilities that standardize the signup method and enable policies instituted by a user - such as an edict to bypass networks that are not secure enough or cost too much - to be enforced on all Passpoint networks the subscriber uses.

Devices certified as Passpoint-compliant before the new capabilities were added can load the new features via software downloads. Those that don’t, however, won’t lose their certification, however, said Kevin Robinson, the director of program marketing for The Wi-Fi Alliance.

The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is another key to cable’s WiFi future. As the name implies, IMS is a structural approach that focuses on Internet Protocol and eliminates the distinction between network types. It is at home on cellular, wireless and wired networks. This creates a unified mesh of connectivity that in reality is made up of different types of networks. Voice and multimedia services can be launched simply by adding servers.

IMS is a potential game changer for WiFi voice - and cable operators’ ability to provide it - because it makes it far easier for cellular and WiFi networks to exchange traffic. In such an infrastructure, WiFi will more readily be used alongside cellular networks. Indeed, it will gain favor because it is unlicensed and therefore much cheaper. Since the cable industry has become a major player in carrier WiFi, this represents a very bright opportunity is opening up for operators, observers say.

The move to IMS - which insiders say is a top agenda item for major cable operator planning departments - could meet a key challenge operators face today: WiFi is good and growing, but at this point it doesn’t have the coverage or flexibility of the cellular networks. Call it the Freewheel challenge.

Ben Lemieux, a telecoms market analyst at Visiongain, wrote in response to emailed questions that the cable operators still have a lot of work to do. “Carrier WiFi will end up being dominated by smartphone traffic, and cable operators have a decided disadvantage in that scenario, as their hotspot users have no mobile network to fall back on, “ he wrote. “Most U.S. cable MSOs are treating carrier WiFi as a ‘complementary’ service, rather than a replacement of cellular. It will serve as a value-add to existing services - a customer retention strategy."

It seems that the technology evolution of operator WiFi is progressing. At the same time, MSOs will have to make an adjustment to selling voice-dominated products that are totally independent of the home. This challenge, which will occur in the marketing and programming arms of the organization, is just as vital to the success of cable operator WiFi.

As usual, the cable industry’s preeminent position is cemented by its massive presence in the homes and neighborhoods of most American towns and cities. “The cable operators see that they have a very, very valuable resource and see a very compelling opportunity to further monetize it,” Robinson said. “There  are a number of cable operators in the ascendency that [can become] mobile providers through their WiFi networks.”

Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

SCTE-Cable Tec Expo 2016 Video Show Dailies

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

In our Video Show Daily for Day 3 of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy covers trends in distrib...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

In our Video Show Daily for the second day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy highlights furt...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy reviews the hot technologies and announcements from the first day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016 in P...

Diamond Technology Reviews - 2016 High Scores

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

BTR's Diamond Technology Reviews, now in its twelfth year, is a technology recognition program wherein vendors serving the broadband cable ...

Related Articles

Cable ONE

2 More AZ Towns Get Cable ONE Gigabit

October 7, 2016

Cable ONE (NYSE:CABO) is expanding its GigaONE gigabit Internet footprin...


Comcast Launches Enterprise IoT Trial

October 6, 2016

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) announced machineQ, a business trial venture focu...


2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy and Ron Hendrickson as they reveal their picks for the...

October 12, 2016
Sponsored by

Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as commercial requirements demand.  This webinar will d...

Date:September 22, 2016
Sponsored by

Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point should be qualified for compliance to help maintain a high...

Date:August 25, 2016
Sponsored by

White Papers & Special Reports

Cable VoIP 2.0: Voice Moves to the Cloud

October 2016

Cable providers led the charge on the VoIP evolution and won customers and market share. Now voice networks are evolving again. The cloud voice platform has ...

Understanding Ultra High Definition Television

October 2016

Over the last 10 years, high definition television (HDTV) has been replacing standard definition television as the expected viewing format for television pro...

Are You Ready for DOCSIS 3.1? The Future of Cable Technology and How to Prepare Your Network

October 2016

DOCSIS 3.1 promises 10x capacity throughput and a range of technical benefits for cable providers and users alike. Are you ready? Discover the technical adva...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

FCC Rethinks Set-Top Plan

September 10, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - The FCC has reworked the "unlock the set-top b...


In Memoriam: Richard Covell

August 18, 2016

By Rob Stuehrk, Publisher - We at Broadband Technology Report were sadde...

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Court Overturns FCC Municipal Broadband Order

August 11, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - You win some, and you lose some, and the FCC just l...

Featured Hangouts

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this inf...

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

Watch a 30-minute video chat of experts from a variety of related disciplines discuss how close deployments really ar...

Featured Hangout

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this informative Hangout on demand by clicking the link above.

Sponsored by Verimatrix.