Cable Congress: The Multi-Gigabit Home Needs Multi-Gig WiFi

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The need for totally reliable "every room, wall-to-wall" high-speed wi-fi is essential for the longer-term survival of service providers as they look to extend new applications over IP like VR, 8K video, and utility management in the smart home.

 That's the chief concern expressed by leading operators and vendor partners meeting at Cable Congress in Dublin.

"Now that the gigabit service to the edge of the home is a reality, the in-home experience is exposed," said John Higgins, chairman, Global Digital Foundation, speaking. "Currently, wi-fi remains the major driver for call support but increasingly 'television' connects to more than TV sets. How can service providers deliver on the multi-gigabit home promise and improve overall customer satisfaction?"

Yupeng Xiong, chief planner of Huawei's Access Product Line, Huawei said the Chinese mobile operator wants "unbreakable" wi-fi in the home in order to rollout new services.

ARRIS CEO Bruce McClelland said, "We are in an IP world already. What we see is the main screen's continued evolution as the device that acts as an aggregator for services and devices in the home. But really robust wireless connectivity in residences is a problem still to be fully solved."

Liberty Global said that in its recent survey the single most critical element for consumers of media services in the home was the need for better wi-fi.

"Connectivity is high—at more than ninety per cent—but this is not good enough," said Nicolas Forineau, director in-home connectivity product for Liberty Global. "Consumers want wi-fi everywhere in the home, wall to wall, and they want complete reliability—which [the industry] does not have today."

While some smartphones can draw down 500Mbps, devices will emerge in the next couple years capable of 1Gbps (5G speeds). Consequently, consumers will expect to experience gigabit connections. 

"The gigabit home is in actuality the gigabit burst home," said Charles Cheevers, chief technology officer of customer premises equipment for ARRIS. "We're not yet planning to run servers pumping gigabit speeds into the home all the time. But we do need the network to sustain high bursts extended over wi-fi." 

He said adaptive bitrate was fine for certain partners, but not for service providers which bear the brunt of consumer service issues.

"Netflix has about 14 different profiles to squeeze video into the home anywhere from 25Mbps to 700Kbps, but service providers have to have quality," he said.

"You don't want to use ABR as a fundamental part of your architecture," says Cheevers. "You want to use it only when you need to. The issue is that 80% of connected devices in the home are connected over wi-fi. There are five devices on average in every home and that is increasing. You probably need two access points each running 25Mbps over wi-fi for coverage. You need to manage those points so they don't interfere with each other. This has to be in place before we can even think about live streaming VR around the home." 

He suggested that a set of industry agreed service standards for in-home wi-fi was important. "Monitoring the service is critical," he added. 

The first step for cable operators is to upgrade their networks to either fibre to the Home and/or DOCSIS 3.1 "and then we are able to get video over IP around the home over wi-fi," Cheevers argued.

The latest iteration of the cable broadband standard, DOCSIS 3.1, will deliver 10Gbps upstream and 1Gbps upstream, and the forthcoming Full Duplex DOCSIS will be able to deliver 10Gbps up and down.

Swedish cable operator Com Hem is testing 1.2Gbps symmetrical broadband in Stockholm ahead of a planned commercial launch next year.

Jeff Binder, EVP of home and entertainment at T-Mobile U.S., said the industry was 2-3 years away from IP being the dominate transport media for video.

"I think satellite goes away. It will be support narrow band IoT but it is clearly not the most ideal delivery infrastructure for on-demand nonlinear content. Satellite doesn't work well with mobile devices. A single IP stream, on the other hand, can serve mobile phones, tablets, TV sets, new glasses from Google, you name it. Those are the realities of the technology." 

He also predicted a more significant merger of the home TV with the mobile device. T-Mobile U.S. is planning to launch a new streaming television service after buying Layer3, which Binder co-founded. 

"Right now, mobile and TV don't know one another. There is no actual social engagement for entertainment or utility management. Increasingly, you will see the experiences between the smartphone and the big glorious 60-inch display in your home. This is not about search and discovery either. It is now about connecting all those other things in your life and in your home. So, these devices need to work in a unified way. Without IP you cannot do that. The legacy infrastructure simply won't support this marriage of experiences."

Netflix Dominates in Europe

Despite the importance of broadband, pay TV is still growing in Europe, said IHS Markit. However, the big growth segment within pay TV has been OTT TV in recent years. Despite this, OTT TV has been additive to pay TV in Europe rather than resulting in the kind of cord cutting that has taken place in the US.

Netflix now has more video subscribers in Europe than any other single provider, but Sky is still the leading player in revenue terms, followed by Liberty Global, with Netflix third.

Netflix has 46% of Europe's online video subscriptions, followed by Amazon with 16%, but pay TV operators also have a significant share.

Independent analyst Ben Keen (formerly at IHS Markit), shared figures that showed Netflix is on track to outrank NBCU as the biggest spender on content. 

Currently, the streamer spends $8 billion annually in contrast to NBCU's $10 billion (a big chunk of which is sports).

Last year the major tech players—Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, Apple, Facebook—collectively injected $18 billion into content. 

The analyst pointed to iQiyi, a Chinese OTT provider already spending more than the BBC on content (over $2 billion a year).

"The Chinese are coming," he said. 

Software Transition 

Earlier at the event, Doron Hacmon, chief product officer, Liberty Global declared the need for the cable giant to transition to a software company. 

"We have to support 85 different set top boxes across our group. Scaling, updating and iterating that complexity is simply unsustainable. We have to become a software company."

However, he offered no solutions to this transition.

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