The industry’s R&D consortium CableLabs’ to-do list is a clear indication of not only upcoming innovations in the industry but also ops’ investment areas. Among the top priorities is wireless, Dan Rice, svp of access network technology said in an interview. “We have been growing our research on wireless over the last couple years, and it’s moving to our primary area of focus,” Rice said, citing DOCSIS 3.1 and data security as two other main focus areas. The group is working on quite a few things on wireless, including WiFi, mobile technology and in-home wireless networks. “With DOCSIS 3.1, we are able to deliver multi-gigabit speeds. We need to make sure the home networks are capable of supporting that in a more consistent and reliable way than they are today.” CableLabs is also pushing ahead with carrier-grade WiFi initiatives. It’s working with industry consortia including the Wireless Broadband Alliance and the WiFi Alliance to enhance cable’s expansion of hotspots. “There’s an interesting consensus that has emerged on all the requirements for carrier-grade wireless. Now we are moving into a certification program within the WiFi Alliance…” said Rice. At its in-house testing facilities, CableLabs is testing WiFi access points, mobile phones and tablets for their radio frequency (RF) performance characteristics. The goal is to make WiFi RF performance as consistent and high quality as mobile phone RF, Rice said. Without commenting directly on MSOs’ recently launched WiFi services such as Cablevision’s FreeWheel, Rice said several other service providers are already doing something similar. For one, Republic Wireless, a US mobile virtual network operator, sells low cost mobile phone service that defaults to WiFi and falls back to Sprint Nextel’s mobile network. Thanks in part to the expansion of WiFi-based services and all the testing done around the technology, “we are seeing the quality of [WiFi] equipment increase substantially,” Rice said, noting that the iPhone 6’s WiFi performance is a big improvement over the iPhone 5. The iPhone 6 series are the first Apple mobile devices equipped with 802.11ac WiFi, which supports much faster data throughput speeds than previous generations. The access points MSOs are using are also performing better, according to Rice, a former Arris exec. Meanwhile, CableLabs is looking into LTE unlicensed, a new use of LTE technology that could potentially threaten WiFi. That’s why the group is working with the wireless industry and WiFi groups to come up with technical approaches to enable spectrum sharing. LTE unlicensed could be used by cable, but a major challenge is it doesn’t co-exist well with WiFi, Rice said. With the majority of data going over WiFi today, it’s important to ensure that any other wireless technology not interfere with WiFi, he said. And here’s a quick update on DOCSIS 3.1: CableLabs continues to stay ahead of schedule on the specification development process. The group is working on interoperability testing, which started in Dec (there was one last week). The certification program is expected to be available in May. Trials are expected before the end of the year.