The following is the second in a three-part series of articles about WiFi in the cable environment contributed by Nokia. Part 1 is here.

MSOs around the world have been WiFi pioneers. The past few years have seen intense cable operator activity providing high-speed WiFi connectivity within the home but also in urban hotspot deployments and public venues via community WiFi schemes. Most MSOs now boast WiFi assets and capabilities leveraging multi-vendor access points, controllers, trusted wireless LAN gateways, evolved packet data gateways and even mobile packet core components.

Many of the initial MSO projects were a defensive play to leverage WiFi connectivity as a service differentiator to increase loyalty and keep customers on the network. WiFi connectivity is now considered table stakes for providers of all kinds, however, and the focus is changing towards delivering a differentiated, quality WiFi experience including personalization or new service features that can be monetized. This change in focus is embodied in current MSO ‘WiFi first’ strategies.

Major MSOs have already made impressive investments in WiFi. Comcast claims millions of access points, Time Warner Cable has around 500,000 and Liberty Global has already deployed 6 million with goal to have 10 million deployed across multiple European operating companies in 2016. In fact, at an industry level, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) projects that by 2018 the cumulative installed base of WiFi hotspots worldwide (taking into account all cable, telco and other hotspot deployments) will total approximately 55.1 million, excluding in-home deployments.

Within this burgeoning connectivity environment, it’s easy to understand why MSOs are looking to take a stake in the evolving value chains and monetize their assets where possible. Potential strategies include:

• Leveraging the quality WiFi experience to provide personalized or tiered services in the home

• Creating new experiences in public places

• Offering fixed/mobile business services bundles

• Wholesaling WiFi connectivity and its management

What follows are a number of ways that MSOs may be thinking of monetizing this valuable asset.

Revenue-Generating Applications in Public Areas

Imagine a football stadium. Spectators will respond to the possibility of receiving HD video and audio to their mobile devices via an application that offers alternative camera angles on the action, replays or even virtual or augmented reality. Furthermore, these applications could also help to up-sell merchandise, order food, etc.

Possibilities for this type of service exist in places where people have time to explore local content such as railway stations, outdoor sporting events, museums, schools, universities, hospitals, retirement homes and tourist cities. To achieve an experience that is perceived as instantaneous and in real time, the content offered has to be close to the subscriber. Cable operators are well positioned to provide this as the content could be hosted in the edge cloud of the operator, where it can be delivered to users quickly and easily.

Enterprise WiFi and Teleworking

As MSOs move to further penetrate the small/medium business (SMB) segment, In-building WiFi connectivity may be bundled with fixed services. Here it is imperative for the MSO to manage and keep the end-to-end infrastructure up to date, observing the latest 802.11 specifications and hotspot standards. MSOs could provide a business captive portal, 24x7 supervision, quality monitoring, etc.

For teleworking and connectivity outside of the business premise, MSOs can identify business users on any of their WiFi networks via the connection to a specific operator SSID associated with their business service. These business users would be authenticated via a security certificate (EAP-TLS either on Trusted WiFi or on IPSec over Private WiFi to an ePDG). Once identified and connected to the business environment, the cable operator would be able to serve up Software as a Service such as collaboration or productivity tools, WiFi calling and more. This technique, assuming a simple, easy and quality experience is provided, naturally promotes a further up-sell of new services.

WiFi Calling

WiFi calling is relevant for both business as well as residential applications and MSOs have already tested the interest and take up of voice over WiFi based services via apps and specific handsets working across MSO WiFi assets. Further monetization of WiFi calling will likely ramp up when MSOs move from an apps approach to leveraging the native dialing agents now available in flagship Android and IOS devices, coupled with an LTE service.

Such services will be true mobility services, where users will be capable of making and receiving calls over both WiFi and LTE. HD audio would be possible in both instances, even without voice over LTE (VoLTE). This type of monetization will be possible for MSOs that have Full Mobile Virtual Network Operator assets or in fact have all fixed and mobile assets in house as in the case of a fully converged operator.

Internet of Things (IoT)

As research companies estimate global market sizes for IoT to exceed $1 trillion from 2016 onwards, MSOs are exploring how this Internet trend may be monetized. For example:

• Provide utilities metering via MSO WiFi networks configured with a specific SSID

• Using Bluetooth bridges (utilizing for example BluFi technology ) in the home to interconnect battery-powered objects via IPv6 to the cloud

• Connecting objects via 802.11ah “Halow” — a new low power technology promoted by the WiFi Alliance, operating in the 900 GHz band, expected to double the range of standard 2.4 GHz WiFi connections

• Work with manufacturers to provide a permanent identity (certificate or internal key) into each object and expose the capabilities of these objects via RESTful API

Managed Home Storage

The global cloud storage market is estimated to billions of U.S. dollars by 2020. Despite this necessary service in our digital world, people are still wary of storing their personal media somewhere in the cloud (Dropbox for example). Many users have continued to utilize manual local storage such as NAS, USB sticks or USB drives although many of these devices are subject to loss, failure or theft, and smartphones and tablets lack USB ports to facilitate data transfers.

MSOs could create a geo-redundant managed home service by attaching an inexpensive USB drive straight to the cable modem, sync it with a mated remote drive in another home, or even in the MSO network, and then make that redundant storage accessible for an entire family’s mobile devices and PCs. This type of service would also be relevant for the SMB/small or home office segment. MSO WiFi would be the preferred technology to upload/sync files.

Further Monetize the Wireless LAN Gateway

The MSO trusted wireless LAN gateway will have a number of networking features, some of which can facilitate differentiated and personalized services such as a captive portal, parental control capabilities, application usage reporting or in-browser notifications for example.

Wholesaling WiFi

In some cases, an MSO could act as an MVNO for other operators requiring WiFi coverage. A different take on this business model would be to offer WiFi or small cells as a managed service to local governments or other businesses. As an example, in the United Kingdom, Virgin Media has been successful in providing WiFi coverage throughout the London Underground in a shared business model with other mobile operators. The same operator has also provided managed WiFi connectivity (small cell as a service) in a number of towns for the local council.

Smart Mobile Hotspot

Recently, mobile personal hotspots have become popular and are commercialized by many operators under the brand name of MiFi. Most current MiFi devices and smartphones disable the WiFi uplink (and switch to LTE) as soon as local WiFi devices are attached to it (personal hotspot). MSOs could create, provide and manage a smarter MiFi device, which concurrently connects to both LTE and WiFi uplinks. It would utilize the same IP address, sometimes leveraged over Trusted MSO WiFi, sometimes over partnering networks (such as Boingo or iPass) and sometimes over LTE but would avoid extreme roaming tariffs. The smart mobile hotspot would always prefer the cheapest uplink, or the best price/quality ratio, and the MSO would proactively manage the service. Furthermore the smart MiFi device’s screen could display MSO branding, ads, offers, etc.

Many Paths to WiFi Revenue

In conclusion, many opportunities exist for MSOs to grasp opportunities arising as value chains evolve, and monetize their WiFi assets. The examples discussed here represent just a few of the potential options, and you can be sure that MSOs will continue to apply creative approaches to ensure their position in the wireless landscape.

In the next article in this series, we will discuss the implications of convergence, 5G and cloud technologies on the cable operator mobility assets such as carrier WiFi, mobile virtual network operator components and mobile core platforms.