Cable Operators’ Existing Wireless Offerings

By Chris Bastian, Senior Vice President/CTO, SCTE/ISBE

For years, at least as far back as 2005, cable operators have been devising strategies for offering the so-called “quad-play”: voice, data, video and wireless. More and more, customers expect to receive their services regardless of where they are: at home, staying at a hotel, riding a train, or walking down the street. Cable operators pursue an “inside-out” strategy to offer the same level of access to data, video, and voice services outside the home as when the customer is at home.

Approaches Taken

Cable operators offering access to their services via wireless have pursued the following to varying degrees:

  1. Home Gateway—Beyond the traditional cable modem, the home gateway also offers Wi-Fi and often times other radios such as Zigbee. This has become the default installation for many cable companies.
  2. Wi-Fi Public Hotspot—Usually installed on aerial strands or in underground vaults, the Wi-Fi public hotspot is accessible when customers and guests are in public gathering places, business districts, and stores.
  3. Cable Wi-Fi Alliance—The alliance is a consortium of five U.S. cable operators who offer access to more than 400,000 Wi-Fi hotspots to all of their collective customers.
  4. Cell Backhaul—For those cable operators not offering cellular services directly, it’s an agreement to carry a cellular company’s landline traffic between their cell sites and mobile switching centers.
  5. Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)—Rather than build its own cellular network, a cable operator can purchase capacity on an existing cellular network and market it to its customers.
  6. Cellular Network Buildout—A few cable operators are also cellular network operators, such as Rogers, Videotron and Liberty Global. With the FCC auctioning additional spectrum, it will be interesting to see if U.S. cable operators opt in to build out their own networks.

SCTE/ISBE will get the industry ready for what’s next in this critical realm of things with a new Wireless Broadband Boot Camp, now in development and to be featured at SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo® 2016 in late September.

Is Convergence Next?

Wi-Fi and cellular standards are constantly evolving. Both are edging toward their fifth-generation releases. Will they converge? There’s much debate. Each currently has its own unique advantages and challenges:

  • Wi-Fi provides great coverage at shorter distances (typically up to 100 feet), can be deployed by anyone, is available on almost every personal mobile device, uses unlicensed spectrum, and is often bundled into other service packages for free.
  • Cellular provides coverage at longer distances (though not as ubiquitous within buildings), supports seamless mobility between cell sites, uses licensed spectrum, and is usually obtained through a subscription model.

Can the fifth-generation standards morph the two together and provide the best of both worlds? Network operators, vendors and international standards organizations are debating this. Several proposals are being considered, such as to have the control plane converge yet leave the data plane separate for each of the radio access spectra. It will take several years to see how this plays out. In the meantime, the combination of Wi-Fi and 4G cellular currently offers customers greater mobility than in the past to receive their services anytime, anywhere.

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