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For a moment it seemed that Comcast had listened to our plea to service providers. At CES the company previewed its new smart home platform designed to make the onboarding of Wi-Fi devices simple, let users monitor what is happening on the network, and set policies – such as making Wi-Fi available to certain devices at certain times.
According to Light Reading, the aim of the Comcast’s advanced wireless gateway will be to create an ‘operating system for connected devices in the home’. With PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, games consoles, cameras, smart meters, cameras and the now-regular raft of connected devices also announced at CES fighting for a Wi-Fi connection in the home, a user-friendly approach to home device management is in demand. Comcast has realised that it needs to maintain its relationship with its customers, keep a critical component of the customer relationship in the home, and avoid becoming a mere bit-pipe.
But the new gateway only solves half the problem. With this new gateway consumers will undoubtedly have more control over their network, and perhaps see where bandwidth-hogging devices are causing issues, but it won’t respond to issues such as router placement, the size of the area the access point is trying to cover, or interference from other nearby sources. An easy-to-use router is not good enough – it needs to automatically assure a reliable and high-quality connection as well.
Comcast is right to address the issue of control, but without automated Wi-Fi assurance, it is not truly addressing customer needs and is at real risk of losing customers to rivals who will tackle these issues. While there are those who will be happy to tinker with settings and troubleshoot themselves, what most people want is to be able to plug in a router and get the best service they possibly can, automatically. A device that offers control over some aspects of Wi-Fi but doesn’t deal with the intricacies of multiple access points or provide radio optimization will ultimately only frustrate customers that need a better Wi-Fi service than they currently have.
So the threat to Comcast’s place in the home remains – as does the threat to every other service provider. Customers will continue to look for a solution that gives them better Wi-Fi, whether that’s ditching the bog-standard router bundled with their internet connection and installing a more expensive device with more antennae, or looking to a provider of direct-to-consumer smart Wi-Fi equipment. If they choose either of these then the service provider will lose out in the long term. If they do not, the customer will remain frustrated by the poor service being received.
We know from our own research that Wi-Fi is terribly inefficient. In an average area, the capacity unavailable thanks to these inefficiencies was enough to stream another 25 high-definition videos. The potential is there for service providers to solve Wi-Fi issues without customers having to resort to expensive solutions. Intelligent and automated use of unlicensed spectrum would allow providers to tap into this latent capacity and deliver better, more reliable performance – and the potential to deliver exciting revenue generating services.
Simplifying the setup, self-service and making it easier to on-board new devices in the home network is a good start, but it is not enough. Consumers need a better home network with consistent and high-performance Wi-Fi – and the increasing strain and density of home Wi-Fi networks will only increase these demands.