There’s no doubt that WiFi is key to cable operators’ growth. And vendors are eyeing it, too. “WiFi everywhere is a big initiative we are looking at,” Arris CEO Bob Stanzione said at the NCTC Winter Conference Tuesday. “Managed WiFi is becoming more and more important as more devices are introduced to the home,” he said, noting Arris is “investing a lot” into improving WiFi performance. For small and mid-sized operators, things like branding and partnering with mobile carriers are good ways to monetize WiFi, speakers said during the conference.
 
According to Chris Stocker, director of solutions engineering at Sandvine, branding via WiFi is huge. “When customers get onto your network, how do you make sure the network is branded in a way that customers know they are on the MSO’s network and not the wireless provider’s network?” he said. “You need to get your name out there…It [WiFi] is something to capitalize on if you can drive your brand recognition,” he said.
 
Case in point: Some MSOs provide auto-authentication for their subscribers, allowing them to automatically connect to cable WiFi without having to log in. Yet while it benefits users, MSOs could lose key branding opportunities since a log-in page won’t be needed, several speakers noted. A solution would be to deliver the WiFi provider’s logo and other brand info through the browser on the device, they said.
 
Partnering with restaurants to offer free WiFi is another way to go. In addition to providing the service, “wouldn’t it be great to partner with those restaurants to offer some type of coupon if you are a cable subscriber?” Steven Krapp, product management director at Arris considered.
 
Additionally, adding WiFi to the mix creates opportunities for cable to work with wireless providers. Though cable can’t compete with mobile carriers in terms of providing connections on-the-go, the carriers “are only going to succeed if they agree to layering [wireless] upon cable,” said Drew Perkins, CEO at startup Gainspeed, which helps cable operators deploy next-generation services. “We can leverage the fact that mobile operators will never have the capacity that we have. It’s just not possible,” said Scott Helms, technology vp at Zcorum, which provides broadband usage management services.
 
It’s important to be aware of mobile operators’ capacity and the kinds of packages they’re offering, Helms continued. And though some carriers have started to offer higher wireless data allowance, “you are still talking about 5-10 Gigabits [monthly] allowance, which is a pretty low number,” he said. “You can’t watch Netflix movies on 10 Gigabits [allowance].” In addition, Krapp noted that as more devices get connected to the network, the telcos worry about how much traffic is being diverted to LTE networks. And according to Helms, that’s why cable operators should focus on providing better and more robust connections.

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