Comcast’s Wi-Fi wish list: Hotspot 2.0, 160 MHZ spectrum
It’s been a Wi-Fi filled opening day here at The Cable Show in Washington D.C. with various Wi-Fi announcements from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and the Cable WiFi Alliance.
While Wi-Fi has cemented itself as the go-to strategy for enabling mobile broadband, there’s bigger and better technology on the horizon.
In the short term, Comcast’s strategy of enabling Wi-Fi in subscribers’ neighborhoods, via strand mounts and via merchants’ access points is well underway. But Tom Nagel, Comcast’s senior vice president of business development, would like to add a couple of things to his Wi-Fi playlist.
“What I hope to see are two primary things,” Nagel said. “One is I really do hope to see more and more device clients and networks like us to work closely on Hotspot 2.0. I think that’s a fantastic user experience where I don’t have to know what the network name is or my ID, it just works. To me that’s the major next step for the user experience.”
In short, Hotspot 2.0, which is also known as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, allows mobile devices to automatically join a Wi-Fi network based upon preferences and network optimization whenever the user enters a Hotspot 2.0-enabled area.
“The other thing I’d like to see, and hope to see, is really more spectrum for Wi-Fi,” Nagel said. “I think we really want to get to 160 MHZ block channels. Today Wi-Fi is at 20 MHz channels. We can go bigger and better and the next standard gets us to 160 as the maximum.
"If I can do 160 MHZ, we can generate something close to a gigabit Wi-Fi and doing that not only makes the outdoor broadband better, but all of the in home connectivity better as well. You don’t need wires anymore. HDMI becomes less important. You can do almost anything without wires other than power so there’s some great stuff that could come if we could get more spectrum.”
Comcast and other cable operators will need all of that spectrum and faster speeds, according to a recent white paper  by Cisco’s Stuart Taylor, director of the service provider practice for Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group.
The CiscoVisual Networking Index (VNI) predicts that mobile data traffic will double globally this year and increase another 78 percent by 2014. Global mobile traffic will grow at a rate three times faster than that of fixed IP traffic over this same period.
The Cisco 2012 VNI also predicted that two-thirds of all mobile traffic would be video by 2015, and an additional 20 percent of this traffic will be devoted to both the mobile web and mobile data.
Taylor wrote that Cisco was seeing a “perfect storm” in both Wi-Fi availability and customer acceptance that was resulting in a worldwide rise in the popularity of Wi-Fi.
Almost half of all households in the world will have Wi-Fi by 2016, or 83 percent of all broadband households. The Wireless Broadband Alliance predicted that the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots globally would grow more than fourfold, to 5.8 million, by 2015.
“Wireless broadband is going through the roof,” Comcast’s Nagel said. “The Cisco report is absolutely fascinating. It’s putting numbers to things we already know are happening. Wireless broadband is really exploding, and the important thing for us we want to make sure we can be part of that explosion by providing the services.”