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Wi-Fi ready for prime time in the Pay TV whole-home

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ARRIS sees a greater role for Wi-Fi in the Pay TV home.

Until fairly recently the prevailing logic within the Pay TV industry has been that Wi-Fi is good for delivery to multiscreen devices in the home and wired home networking solutions, like MoCA or Powerline, are needed for multiroom TV. But Anthony Zuyderhoff, VP for CPE Solution Sales at ARRIS, the CPE vendor, thinks the market has reached a tipping point when it comes to attitudes about wireless, thanks mainly to the robust new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.

He says platform operators worrying about the performance and QoS levels of Wi-Fi are now the exception rather than the rule. And assuming that there is no compromise in Quality of Service, the prize for wireless video distribution is lower professional installation costs or customer self-installation, and greater customer satisfaction (because they have more choice where they locate devices).

He points to Orange France as an example of a Pay TV operator that is making good use of Wi-Fi, using a VAP2400 external wireless video bridge supplied by ARRIS. At Orange, Wi-Fi is now an alternative to Powerline for some installations. Adoption rates have been very good, with near-zero problems reported to call centres.

David Watkins, Director, Connected Home Devices at the Digital Consumer Practice for Strategy Analytics, reports that the penetration of Wi-Fi connectivity in DVRs and set-top boxes is currently around 10% of global shipments. Wi-Fi integration is happening in the higher-end DVR products like Sky+ from BSkyB and Horizon from Liberty Global. “By 2017 we forecast that around 40% of global DVRs will have embedded Wi-Fi,” he reveals.

The 802.11n Wi-Fi most commonly used today is adequate for firmware updates and standard resolution OTT video. The minimum needed for HD video streaming from room to room is probably dual-band 802.11 2 x 2 using primarily the 5 GHz band, Watkins estimates. With chip ASPs coming down quickly, 802.11n/ac 2 x 2 will probably be the minimum in future.

He says operator interest in Wi-Fi is driven by the desire to promote whole home TV services but also to encourage more use of their on-demand and catch-up TV services. “For home entertainment applications, we think that 802.11n/ac will make up more than 60% of device shipments in 2018.”

The main barrier to embedded Wi-Fi is the cost, says Anthony Zuyderhoff. There could be a 15-30% cost premium compared to a non-Wi-Fi gateway or set-top box. But he thinks the investment is justified by moving to self-installation and more customer satisfaction.

Broadcom, which claims 3.2 Gbps throughput for its new six stream 802.11ac MIMO platform for home networks, sees a bigger role for Wi-Fi in the home but not necessarily at the expense of existing technologies. Everyone will make their decision based on QoS, reports Joe Del Rio, Associate Product Line Director, Broadband Communications Group at the SoC provider Broadcom.  

He says efforts to improve the radio technology must be complemented by intelligent QoS management (like prioritizing video over file downloads, or making sure 802.11ac devices are not sharing airtime with slower Wi-Fi devices). It also demands a focus on proactive quality assurance to avoid customer calls.

We will probably see a hybrid home network environment. That is certainly the vision for Portugal Telecom, whose Meo television service was built using a combination of Powerline, coax and wireless, then consolidated around CAT 5 Ethernet, partly because there were too many customer calls related to its 802.11g Wi-Fi.

More recently the company has been testing G.hn, a standard that embraces power lines, coax and phone lines. According to Ashok Bhagubai, Director at Portugal Telecom, “We are determined to bring back Powerline and Coax and openly offer Wi-Fi as installation options for customers. We believe that these technologies could save OpEx during installation and give customers more flexibility.”

More reading

Videonet has just published a report called ‘The Future Of Pay TV CPE’ which looks at the factors that will drive the forthcoming generational upgrade in operator Customer Premise Equipment and highlights important strategic decisions that need to be made, like whether to use a headed or headless gateway, whether to favour operator-supplied whole-home TV clients or CE device cooperation, whether to embed Wi-Fi now or wait another generation, and whether to deploy HEVC on HD boxes immediately and on UHD set-tops later or launch with boxes that can support both. This report considers the factors driving the current CPE refresh cycle, which will result in more device diversity and new revenue-generating opportunities. The report is free and you can download it here.



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