Creating consumer value with smart Wi-Fi


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Wi-Fi is central to the value proposition of home connectivity, but can hamper good broadband experience. Smart Wi-Fi services can address consumer pain points, and build new value by enabling a suite of advanced services and establishing a stronger telco presence in the connected home.

Wi-Fi is fundamentally important to telcos’ consumer propositions

It connects all devices in the household. Most Wi-Fi no longer needs to use cables and the number of connected devices in a household continues to expand. Not only are multiple phones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles and TVs being connected to home Wi-Fi networks, but many households increasingly also have smart home devices.

Wi-Fi is essential, but it does not always perform well. Our recent report, How to sell full fibre to households concluded that the majority of households do not need the bandwidth offered by FTTP. Even with multiple household members using different devices for a variety of bandwidth-demanding activities, most broadband technologies offered across developed markets should offer sufficient bandwidth to their needs. A further finding is that most households across developed markets are likely to have a broadband connection that offers a consistently good connectivity experience, and that when a problem occurs such as intermittent connection or buffering it is more likely to be caused by their Wi-Fi than their broadband connection.

Market share of fixed broadband technologies, UK

Source: Ofcom Telecommunications Market Data Update, Q1 2023

It is challenging to get full data from any regulator or telco on how many broadband problems are actually caused by Wi-Fi. However, it is clear that in some cases at least it is proving detrimental to consumers’ experience of connectivity and related services. Telcos that are not trying to take control of the Wi-Fi experience their customers have may be missing an opportunity and allowing their relationship with their customers to be damaged.

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Turning Wi-Fi from a problem into a solution

This report explains how telcos can stop Wi-Fi being an experience killer and instead use it to add value, through smart Wi-Fi.

We define and explain what is and is not “smart Wi-Fi”, identify smart Wi-Fi features that can be used to add value and lay out the challenges faced in getting up-to-date Wi-Fi into homes.

This report profiles some of the main players in the smart Wi-Fi space, what they offer and how telcos can work with them. It also features examples and analysis of some telco deployments of smart Wi-Fi offerings, and how these can be presented to customers. The report finishes with conclusions and recommendations.

The path to turn Wi-Fi from a problem into a solution in the context of consumer services has two elements:

  • Ensuring Wi-Fi is fit for purpose when that purpose is to connect household devices to high-performance broadband.
  • Adding value through additional smart Wi-Fi-enabled services.

Turning Wi-Fi into a solution

Source: STL Partners

What is smart Wi-Fi?

The first element to ensuring Wi-Fi is creating and not destroying value for telco customers (and thus telcos) is to ensure it is up to the job it needs to do. High-performance broadband can only deliver an experience representative of its capabilities if the connection to the end user devices, that is, the Wi-Fi, can offer comparable performance in speed and capacity, latency, etc. Ensuring this is the case is not necessarily about smart Wi-Fi, but about up-to-date Wi-Fi. The more recent Wi-Fi standards have capabilities more aligned to high-performance broadband and the expanding number of bandwidth-demanding devices and applications being used in homes.

Wi-Fi 5 (also known as 802.11ac)

Introduced in 2014, Wi-Fi 5 devices remain prevalent amongst consumers, and cannot always perform adequately to their needs. Like its predecessor, Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5 features dual-band capabilities enabling it to operate in both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. A key advancement of Wi-Fi 5 when it was launched lay in its more efficient usage of the 5GHz band, enabling it to provide higher throughput speeds than preceding standards. Wi-Fi 5 can theoretically support data rates of up to 3.5Gbit/s, compared to 600Mbit/s with Wi-Fi 6, though it should be noted that theoretical speeds are almost impossible to achieve in real-life conditions, and a more common maximum performance may be closer to 1Gbps.

Wi-Fi 5 also marked an improvement over earlier standards by introducing MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output) technology that enabled the router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously, improving the performance of the router in environments with multiple connected devices, which increasingly includes most homes. Wi-Fi 5 can also support beam-forming, which when employed can lead to an improved signal range and performance.

Wi-Fi 5 is nearly a decade old in 2023. Although its theoretical performance is good, its reliance on the 5GHz band provides propagation challenges, and it often proves insufficient to provide high-performance broadband connectivity to multiple devices in typical homes. Additionally, the MU-MIMO capability inherent in Wi-Fi 5 allows four simultaneous transmissions before the Wi-Fi becomes congested, and increasingly this is insufficient for many users.

Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E (also known as 802.11ax)

Released in 2019, Wi-Fi 6 offers significant improvements in speed and latency over Wi-Fi 5 (its maximum theoretical data rate is 9.6Gbit/s), and addresses the increasing demand for Wi-Fi that can handle environments with high device density. Another focus of the new standard was to improve power performance and safety protocols.

A number of technological advancements enable these performance enhancements. Key among these is ODFMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access) technology that enables one transmission to deliver data to multiple users at once, allowing Wi-Fi 6 to support multiple clients far more efficiently than previous technologies. Wi-Fi 6 likewise boasts greater beam-forming capabilities, which involves the router focusing the wireless signal towards a specific receiver, rather than broadcasting the signal in all directions. Network security is also a pillar of Wi-Fi 6 as it leverages the latest WPA3 security protocol, and Wi-Fi 6 offers much greater beam-forming capabilities leading to more penetrating and higher capacity beams than Wi-Fi 5.

However, despite these advancements there are some issues with Wi-Fi 6, particularly with the cost of Wi-Fi 6 routers (which has stayed noticeably higher than Wi-Fi 5 even in the four years since the launch of the new standard) and the marginal range improvements it offers over Wi-Fi 5.

Wi-Fi 6 has now been extended with the introduction of Wi-Fi 6E, which adds tri-band capabilities. As the name suggests, the tri-band capabilities of Wi-Fi 6E enables it to operate in three distinct frequency bands: 2.4GHz, 5GHz and the new 6GHz band. Operating in the 6GHz band allows Wi-Fi 6E to avoid channels congested by legacy Wi-Fi devices and achieve gigabit speeds with more ease. However, the 6GHz band faces greater interference from physical obstructions, and therefore these higher throughput speeds can only be realised by devices in close proximity to the router.

Wi-Fi 7 is coming soon

It is important to note that on the horizon is Wi-Fi 7. This next-generation wireless network standard promises four times the data rates and twice the bandwidth of Wi-Fi 6, ultra-low latency and high device density capabilities. The IEEE standardisation body is scheduled to release Wi-Fi 7 in 2024.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Wi-Fi is an essential enabler in the connected home
    • Wi-Fi can let broadband down
    • Wi-Fi that is fit for purpose
    • More advanced Wi-Fi offerings can help telcos build value
    • Finding the right partnership model for smart Wi-Fi services
    • Next steps
  • Introduction
    • Turning Wi-Fi from a problem into a solution
    • What is smart Wi-Fi?
    • What can smart Wi-Fi do?
  • Understanding the smart Wi-Fi landscape
    • IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance
    • Traditional Wi-Fi device manufacturers
    • Specialist gaming opportunity
    • Newer smart Wi-Fi-dedicated companies
    • Smart home and smart Wi-Fi
  • Telco smart Wi-Fi propositions
    • Telcos reselling branded smart Wi-Fi
    • Telcos designing their preferred smart Wi-Fi offering
    • Working with Plume – a middle way?
  • How to sell smart Wi-Fi to consumers
    • Promoting smart Wi-Fi as a feature of higher value broadband plans
    • Creating additional upsell opportunities
    • Strengthening customer relationships and removing pain points
    • Competing on Wi-Fi
  • Conclusion
    • Recommendations

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