Cable may be late to the wireless game, but there’s plenty of opportunity left.
“WiFi is one of the most important technologies in the world right now. The hotel industry, airlines started deploying WiFi a long time ago. It used to be a usable product, but current WiFi systems are completely overused,” BIG Wireless pres, CTO John Dolmetsch told the Broadband Association of Pennsylvania’s annual Cable Academy this week. “The networks weren’t built to handle the volume of traffic coming over these smart phones. It’s unique cable operators are getting in late to the game. They can take a look at a market that’s highly successful and learn from the mistakes of everyone else.”
It’s key that cable not offer WiFi that’s simply good. “It has to be fantastic,” Dolmetsch said. Cable’s on its way, with the exec noting he’ll routinely skip “horrible” hotel WiFi for Comcast Xfinity WiFi when available. “You know the usage is going to grow, so if you start off being ‘great,’ you’ll downgrade to ‘good,’” he said.
MetroCast Communications, which operates in 47 Pennsylvania franchise communities, has been deploying WiFi hotspots for customers since 2014. MetroCast senior broadband product manager John Ladd cautioned that it’s not just the busy, urban areas that benefit, with some of MetroCast’s rural market seeing “tremendous usage.”
How can MSOs monetize it? Well, some of it comes from goodwill from customers, Ladd said. There’s also a public relations benefit in communities served. “Towns can advertise it. It can politically be very helpful when it’s franchise time,” he said.
Dolmetsch suggested MSOs may be able to assign an actual dollar figure ROI if they could build WiFi offerings out for the mobile workforce. He described how utility workers are driving a half hour or more in some parts of the state to file reports because cell service doesn’t work and there’s no WiFi. “Use the infrastructure in a way that no else has thought to use it,” he encouraged.
One of the more challenging areas for WiFi has been stadiums and similar large venues. “In my opinion, no one has done any right,” Dolmetsch told the crowd. The exception, he said, is San Francisco’s Levi Stadium where it was actually built for WiFi. Ruckus Wireless systems engineering manager Michael Eck agreed that stadiums are a challenging venue, adding that the costs in engineering design could easily outweigh the costs of equipment.
“The challenges are real. The venues weren’t designed with access deployment in mind, but obstruction-free viewing,” Eck said. “That’s basically the opposite of high-density wireless. We would love to use obstructions to achieve greater density.”
Then there’s the matter of usage. Ladd’s rule of thumb is one access point for every 400 users with a 1-meg connection. So a 10,000-seat venue would have around 30 access points. You should budget 60-70% simultaneous users. “It varies by venue. You’ll have less usage at a symphony than at The Mann Center when a rock band is playing in downtown Philly.”