With consumers increasingly looking to outside support to solve their home connection issues, internet service providers are well-positioned to take the lead on Wi-Fi. The consumer home, however, is a territory with many unknowns. How should ISPs handle the challenges of in-home connectivity?
Taming the Wild West of Wi-Fi: The Home Frontier
By Tim Jacks
Imagine you're a broadband service provider and your customers aren't happy with the internet speeds they're receiving. You see that your network is suffering from congestion, so you upgrade some backhaul connections and your customers' speeds go up – all sorted. But then, all of a sudden, your speeds unexpectedly decrease again – it turns out a competitor has started using some of the capacity on your network and there's nothing you can do about it!
Of course, this doesn't happen in real life, because operators have control over their own networks.
The in-home Wi-Fi environment, however, is a different matter. The WWW (Wild West of Wi-Fi) is a nightmare for operators.
The control that exists in the fixed network is non-existent in Wi-Fi, and operators continually need to deal with a shifting environment and unpredictable variables that affect many aspects of the customer experience. Demands on Wi-Fi performance are constantly increasing, both in terms of the throughput requirements of high bandwidth applications and the environment in which that data has to be transmitted. Neighbours jostle for position in the Wi-Fi radio spectrum, and consumers expect their applications to work seamlessly on every device in every corner of the house, regardless of the size or layout of their home.
Despite this lack of control, it seems the burden of responsibility for the in-home connectivity experience is moving more and more to the service provider.
Indeed, according to a recent Airties poll, 78% of respondents "prefer their ISP to provide in-home Wi-Fi gear, instead of purchasing it themselves". Long gone are the days when consumers viewed Wi-Fi as their own problem to solve – that responsibility now sits firmly with the operator.
So, what does this responsibility mean?
As Graham Harvey, Head of Cartesian’s Wi-Fi Services, noted in a recent Digital TV Europe article, “Maximising whole-home connectivity in the future will depend on changing the relationship between the service provider and customer.”
Cartesian has been working on the in-home connectivity environment for many years, and we see four main challenges for operators:
- Monetizing the in-home environment. The flip side of the in-home Wi-Fi responsibility is the opportunity that comes with it. Consumers want operators to provide better Wi-Fi, but they're also willing to pay for it. Operators need to change how they think about Wi-Fi - from a one-off hardware and installation problem, to an ongoing service that can be monetized.
- Providing proactive assistance. If an operator is to provide this ongoing service, it needs to take proactive action to solve its customer’s problems, before the customer calls in with a complaint.
- Finding a solution that works for each customer. It’s not enough anymore to source the most expensive all-singing all-dancing Wi-Fi router and send it to all your customers. Operators need to have a set of in-home networking solutions to hand which can be deployed based on a customer’s specific circumstances.
- Education, education, education. Yes, it's important. Misunderstanding of Wi-Fi issues abound, not just with customers, but within operators' organisations, and even with the installers sent to set up a customer's Wi-Fi in the first place.
Bearing in mind the uncertain variables in the home environment, here are three actions that operators should take to start on the journey to in-home success:
- Ensure a solid CPE base. Throwing money at more and more advanced Wi-Fi CPE won't solve all your problems. The lack of control in the in-home environment will always create unpredictable scenarios that can't be accounted for with the hardware and software in the home alone. But you do need to make sure that your CPE is fit for purpose, so that it doesn't become the source of problems itself, and that your CPE can be used as the base for a set of solutions that can be tailored to a customer’s home and needs.
- Build a holistic understanding of the in-home environment around the CPE through analytics. Operators are starting to work more with Wi-Fi data, but this work needs tying together with data from across the customer ecosystem. By combining Wi-Fi data with other customer data - from TV usage data, to network performance and BSS/OSS data - you can see the full picture, spot problems as they occur and proactively take the appropriate course of action, whether that's sending the customer advice, or recommending a new service.
- Educate the customer and your own teams. It's vital to make sure that people across your organisation understand the issues that your customers face in the in-home Wi-Fi environment. Building an appreciation that a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to work is key in developing an effective service-based approach to the Wi-Fi problem.
With some focused effort on a few key areas on the Wi-Fi experience, service providers can corral the in-home environment and ease connectivity issues for both themselves and their customers. <>
How Cartesian can help with your Wi-Fi offering: