CFX Tech: WiFi Hitting Everywhere in 2018

There’s been no slowdown in the growth of WiFi, with 2018 sure to continue the upward trend as more devices become connected to the internet. With the next generation of WiFi, 802.11ax, hitting the scene and the Wi-Fi Alliance predicting cumulative device shipments surpassing 20bln units in the next year, the value of a reliable, speedy connection is higher than ever.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed, and ISPs are dedicating time and money to introducing new services that promise high speeds throughout the home, no matter how many devices are looking to connect. Comcast closed out 2017 with the rollout of its xFi Pods, signal extenders designed for homes posing unique challenges for traditional gateways. This week, AT&T announced its Smart Wi-Fi Extender, boasting the ability to boost by up to 1,000 square feet. The technology is designed to automatically select the best connection for each in-home device while the accompanying AT&T Smart Home Manager app manages the name and passwords associated with the network. Cox has seen success with its own efforts, reporting its Panoramic WiFi service surpassed 1mln customers in December—14 months after its launch.

Cox vp of product marketing Jonathan Freeland said the development of the solution was spurred by research showing customer complaints widely surrounded the unpredictability of the signal throughout their homes. “At the end of the day, they want coverage everywhere,” Freeland told Cablefax . “This is not only among our own customers, but also competitors’ customers we surveyed, so it was pretty much a marketplace-wide opportunity area.”

How big of an issue is this? Nearly half of Cox’s customers were reporting having issues surrounding connectivity with their devices, according to Freeland. Connecting multiple devices highlights opportunity for ISPs. “When we were doing the installation, it was primarily oriented around making sure the signal strength was strong and the modem was connected, and what we learned in the research was that consumers really look to us as the broadband provider to connect the devices in their home and make sure they have good WiFi in the home,” he said.

San Diego was the first test market, with one of the key learnings being the importance of making sure consumers understand how Panoramic WiFi differs from the internet installs from several years ago.

“We doubled-down on the training. We modified some of the marketing materials to really be clear about what it is that we’re offering… that it really is about the connectivity experience,” Freeland said.Technicians literally go through the house with customers to find the important areas for WiFi and to check signal flow. In the past, like many operators, Cox wasn’t using extenders to boost signal in the home; it was primarily just installing a modem.

Now that Cox has established Panoramic WiFi, the next steps are all about enhancing customer engagement and understanding of the technology. “It’s moving past connectivity and getting into the control and engagement side,” Freeland said. Cox may opt to leverage its My Wifi app to help with engagement given than many Panoramic customers use it to monitor device Internet status, including individual signal strengths.

The need for more ubiquitous WiFi will only continue to grow as more Americans get connected through the closure of the digital divide. The 2016 FCC Broadband Report found 39% of rural America (23mln people) lack access to 25Mbps/3Mbps broadband. Last year, we saw efforts from Microsoft to address the issue of broadband in rural areas with its white spaces plan and Google has jumped in with its Project Loon, which uses high-altitude balloons to create an aerial wireless network.

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