Saturday, December 12, 2015

Xfinity Wi-Fi is Ready for Wholesale. Are Buyers Ready?

As always, every regulatory model and policy has direct implications for conceivable business models, whatever the other policy considerations.

Consumer Internet access, presently mandated as “best effort only,” allows no creation of quality-assured access services that might have direct end user experience benefits for consumers.

Voice and real-time video communications are among the historic examples, as both are sensitive to latency, the problem packet prioritization tries to solve.

Inability to support quality mechanisms for consumer Internet access has been a business model issue for mobile and fixed Internet service provider services.

That is not true for business-focused public hotspot services.

An emerging issue is the degree to which quality-assured services will become a bigger potential business for networks built upon consumer platforms.

Business services are allowed to use such quality of service mechanisms without restriction.

And that is one angle Comcast and others are counting upon to create new revenue streams from a network that has largely, to this point, been an important Internet access feature, but not much of a direct revenue generator.

Comcast and others hope that will change as network footprint increases, seamless authentication and handoff to mobile networks (NGH and Passpoint) are possible, and there are extensive roaming agreements, improved quality of service and security.

What then will be possible are business models that in the past have been difficult or impossible.

Quality-assured access will open up new possibilities for business-class services requiring more security and quality of service mechanisms; services based on ultra-reliable machine-to-machine communications, or video entertainment.

It is reasonable to assume that the customers for such services will be other enterprises, including mobile service providers, app providers and possibly device manufacturers, to an extent.

Since the likely application includes carrier voice and messaging or other business services, there are no network neutrality infractions.

Given the growing importance of traffic offload from mobile networks to Wi-Fi, the likelihood is that both retail and wholesale opportunities to support offload of carrier voice and messaging are possible, creating a new wholesale opportunity for Xfinity Wi-Fi, for example.

Comcast’s 11 million public-facing  hotspots have achieved at least one objective so far: access is surprisingly widespread. I sometimes get signal in the middle of Denver intersections with six lanes one way, four lanes the other.

The network is not intended to substitute for the mobile network, but it is surprisingly useful as an untethered access mechanism many of the places I move about, when in a Comcast region. I haven’t found it works quite as well when outside a Comcast region, but in a zone where Cable Wi-Fi roaming agreements are in place.

Though it is hard to see AT&T or Verizon sourcing capacity from Comcast to densify coverage, others might be more willing, and that is one of the potential enterprise revenue streams Comcast always as aimed for, in building the Wi-Fi hotspot network.

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