Does Wi-Fi pose a threat or present an opportunity to cable operators? What about WiMAX? As with most technologies, the answers to those questions depend upon several variables.

If used by an alternate operator to provide wireless access, it’s a threat, said Christopher Skarica, vice president of engineering, Lindsay Broadband, during last week’s SCTE Live Learning event. But the cable operator also can use this technology to stave off these threats and meet a myriad of today’s challenges, including extending service to office parks and neighboring communities.

Specifically, DOCSIS hotspot and deep hybrid mesh architectures can provide nomadic and fixed wireless access for high-speed data. "(A) goal is to offer a fourth sticky service," Skarica said.

He shared a real-life story about an electric utility, which used its own rights of way and unlicensed spectrum to offer an 802.11 Wi-Fi service, which could be used both inside the home and nomadically within the downtown area. It initially was free, but eventually transitioned to a fee-based model. Twenty-two percent of customers converted, which amounted to 9,500 subscribers.

Seeing this, a cable company in a neighboring city took preventive measures to protect its own subscriber base. The company deployed hundreds of DOCSIS hotspots along its existing HFC rights of way. "They added (the) fourth sticky service to their HSD customer base and another revenue stream from Wi-Fi users who were not customers," Skarica said, noting that since its launch the service has generated "tens of thousands of sessions" and discouraged overbuilders from entering its territory. Hybrid mesh An alternative to the DOCSIS hotspot architecture is the deep hybrid mesh architecture, which combines nomadic service with the ability to deliver a fixed high-speed data service in the range of 5 Mbps to 20 Mbps, said the second panelist Chris Busch, vice president, broadband technologies, Incognito Software.

"(You are) getting two service models for the price of one installation," Busch said, describing the topology as one in which communication between access points or radio devices on the strand is done wirelessly. "There is no requirement (of the plant) other than the power that is already in the plant," he added.

The topology brings down the cost of upgrading a one-way plant and bringing high-speed data services even to remote communities from $450 to $500 per home passed to less than $100 per home passed.

"This is a compelling scenario," Busch said. As for extending service to office parks, he noted that cable operators typically have plant along the roads that lead to these locations. "By using a small mesh or simple wireless distribution services … you don’t need to have costly construction charges to enter the park." Whither WiMAX? While cable operators are keeping an eye out for Wi-Fi overbuilders, they also must pay attention to WiMAX, which offers point-to-point and point-to multipoint broadband access, Busch said. While Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, WiMAX utilizes licensed or private spectrum, bringing with it another set of potential competitors.

"Is it a threat? To quote them (WiMAX proponents), it allows delivery of last-mile broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL," Busch said. Advantages to WiMAX in a central tower based design include an "aggressive poling architecture (which) allows for far field and near-field customer premises modems to be serviced equally."

For a more detailed description of how Wi-Fi can be both a "friend or a foe" to the cable operator, please see the series co-authored by Skarica and Busch that appeared in the September and October 2007 issues of Communications Technology.

– Monta Hernon

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