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Putting Wi-Fi first
2017 will be the first year that major MSOs will offer mobile services that lean on their Wi-Fi footprint and are backed by a partnership with major mobile carriers. In the US specifically, it is expected that Comcast will launch such services by the middle of the year and Charter shortly thereafter.
From a wireless technology perspective, this has the potential to bring forward a number of oft-discussed technologies that, to date, have enjoyed more hype than deployment. These include:
This move towards a Wi-Fi-first mobile offering will grow into the mainstream, but with substantial amounts of traffic serviced by the partner MNO network. 5G, and more specifically shared spectrum (i.e. 3.5GHz in the US), will also stand to play a key role in Wi-Fi-first developments.
In the end, to do all of this successfully requires scalable, automated management and optimization of the radio network – both licensed and unlicensed – as well as a strong analytics capability to make thoughtful decisions on how to grow the network.
There’s gold in them homes
The first battleground is and will remain the home. Traditional communications operators, both the telcos and cable companies, have been locked in a battle for the home for decades. They are now also fighting with content providers and internet giants to be the de facto service provider of the future. If they want to prevail, operators have a huge imperative to ensure a high-quality Wi-Fi experience – making it easy for the consumer – and using this as the springboard to deliver additional revenue-generating services on top of the Wi-Fi.
But should they fail to assure this quality of experience, there are plenty of retail products that aim to fill the gap. The second half of 2016 saw mesh home Wi-Fi systems flood the market; from Eero and Luma through to Google, there’s enough competition to strike fear in the hearts of ISPs.
2017 will also see operators seek to overcome “self-branding” challenges. Few consumers are complimentary about their operator despite many offering a better than average service in the face of massive technological and economic challenges. While this is unlikely to be resolved in 2017, there is so much opportunity to dilute the negative reputation telcos have garnered over the years.
Operators must shift perspective from being a utility to a service provider. People often like to say “Wi-Fi is a utility” which demonstrates how fundamental it has become to our day-to-day lives, but this isn’t necessarily advantageous for operators. If operators can be seen to provide a service rather than a utility, consumers will become far more appreciative of the products and service they receive from service providers. Apple, for example, created a huge following by providing a series of products that deliver value we are conscious of daily – if not minute by minute.
If operators are to thrive in an ever competitive environment, changing attitudes towards Wi-Fi will prove essential, especially as telcos seek to monetise new Wi-Fi services.