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Operators Placing Big Bets On Carrier-Grade WiFi: Study

Cable operators and mobile network operators will place a big bet on “carrier-grade” WiFi networks in the coming years as “best-effort” WiFi networks become less and less profitable, Real Wireless and rethink Technology Research found in a new study commissioned by Amdocs.

Among operators, carrier-grade WiFi hotspots will grow from 14% today to 72% of overall WiFi hotspots by 2018, the study predicted, noting that the trend will be in response to the need for improved capacity and quality for services such as video streaming (including authenticated TV Everywhere services), health monitoring, online gaming, IP voice applications, as well as a broader desire to carve out new revenue streams from their expanding wireless broadband networks.

The cable industry, which is rapidly deploying hotspots in and out of the customer home, has already started to place a heavy emphasis on carrier-grade WiFi. CableLabs, for example, is working with several standards groups on products and tools that will utilize standards and specifications that will help MSOs develop and manage carrier-grade WiFi networks. That effort will include a focus on providing a consistent user experience and network management practices. The study points out that MSOs believe carrier grade WiFi can improve their position when negotiating mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) deals. 

Among other findings and forecasts from the Amdocs-commissioned study:

-By 2016, 77 percent of service providers plan to use “homespots” (where the user agrees to leave the hotspot open for use by passers-by), growing from 30 percent today. In the U.S., Comcast and Cablevision Systems are among the early adopters.

-85% of operators plan to invest in carrier-grade WiFi by 2016, as MSOs see carrier-grade --By the end of 2016, 61% MSO’s WiFi hotspots, and 70% of those deployed by MNOs will be sourced from third parties to take advantage of shared cost savings and accelerated deployment, up from 45% today.

“Service providers are starting to see WiFi as a strategically important offering that can enhance or damage their reputations and which needs to support a user experience comparable to that of cellular networks,” said Oliver Bosshard, managing consultant at Real Wireless, in a statement. “Best-effort WiFi networks are not controlled from the operator’s core network or operational support systems tools, and the access points often do not support any form of traffic management or prioritization. As a result, operators are unable to monitor or address performance issues such as congestion, meaning they cannot guarantee QoE - properties such as connection speed, latency or prioritization that are all critical to enable the monetization options for Wi-Fi.”

Amdocs, which released the study in tandem with this week’s Small Cells Americas show in Dallas, said the research was conducted between August and October 2014 with WiFi managers from 40 service providers in Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America.