Friday, July 24, 2015

Voice over Wi-Fi: Cable versus LTE: Part II

In the article “How Big a Threat Is VoWi-Fi to the LTE Operator?”  (Video: I illustrated the potential threat cable voice-over-Wi-Fi is to the mobile network operator. In Part II of the LTE threat I look at this issue from the CxO’s point of view of each organization.

Cable executives see VoWi-Fi as “nothing but upside.” VoWi-Fi enhances customer bundles, adds new revenue opportunities and is technically achievable. From a network perspective, their HFC networks are widely deployed, minimize access point backhaul issues, and have a presence in millions of homes and small/medium businesses. This physical presence gives them instant Wi-Fi access points on which they can add voice services. Additionally, they have a voice backend, and they are well positioned to handle the additional voice traffic throughout their network. Given these strengths, they can and will move fast, hence, “nothing but upside.”
Mobile network operator (MNO) executives see Voice over Wi-Fi as “nothing but threats” to subscriber relationships, top-line revenue and profits and CAPEX flexibility. These threats are visualized in a number of ways. MNOs lack a physical presence in the home beyond the end-user devices with most users already off-loading to broadband delivered Wi-Fi for performance and data cap reasons. Although LTE backhaul networks have substantial capacity it is questionable whether they can gracefully cope with an onslaught of Wi-Fi data traffic. No company will deploy a voice-only Wi-Fi network. MNOs that do not own fixed network assets have a more daunting competitive environment; however, those that do have fixed network assets still have substantial challenges.
Cable is not without its own challenges. Given that they will be a new entrant to the mobile voice market they must meet certain baselines of quality of service, which will add to the deployment time, cost and complexity. Cable companies will never build out an LTE network. Never is a long time but, this is a safe bet. True, they can become MVNOs or be bold and buy Sprint or T-Mobile. Without LTE cable companies will not be able to offer the coverage MNOs can.
New Wi-Fi voice and data technologies are under development. Improvements to the over-the-air protocols to address fairness and contention are emerging but VoWi-Fi technologies are nascent and standards take time. All of this will delay cable’s first mover advantage.
MNOs have advantages as well. The biggest, as well as the most technically challenging, is intelligently leveraging their fixed and mobile networks to gain real-time insights of both networks’ end-to-end conditions such as congestion. Then, using these insights they can provide a superior quality of experience to their subscribers, particularly those deemed as high-value subscribers. For example, a default “off-load-to-Wi-Fi” strategy may not make sense for all subscribers if the Wi-Fi network is congested and the LTE network is not.
MNOs with small cells sites can upgrade them with LTE/Wi-Fi combo devices. The MNO has already solved the tough small cell site problems (real estate, backhaul, powering, etc.) so swapping out devices is manageable. Keep in mind that these small cell sites are not randomly dispersed. They are located in high-traffic, high-value locations. This enables the MNO to quickly expand its Wi-Fi network presence in these and high-value locations. Even more powerful is the ability to add Wi-Fi to its Self- Optimizing/Organizing Network investments.
The MNOs have a bold strategy available to them. They can move fast too, and because they have a carrier-class LTE network on which to fall back they don’t have to start with a gold plated Wi-Fi network. They state that they want to be more like web companies and deploy services fast and improve them over time. On this point, they can walk the talk and rapidly deploy a data-only Wi-Fi network that’s “good enough” and let their subscribers use it for free until they attain the level of quality they really want. A lesson from the web world is capturing customers quickly, which is paramount to success.
Voice-over-Wi-Fi has the real potential to be a major disruption to the service provider industry. Cable companies see this as nothing but upside, whereas mobile network operators see this as nothing but threats. Both have advantages and challenges. Cable has the footprint, voice backend and potential first mover advantage. Yet, as a new mobile voice entrant they have minimum quality thresholds they must meet to be credible. MNOs, on the other hand, lack a strong physical presence in the home and may face network capacity challenges with the addition of massive amounts of Wi-Fi data traffic. However, they have the ability, if bold enough, to take a page out of the web company playbook and move even faster to deploy a “good enough” data-only Wi-Fi network using today’s technologies and their current installed infrastructures.
Want more information or to discuss strategies to dominate the game changing market of voice-over-Wi-Fi? Cable companies, mobile network operators and vendors to both industries contact ACG at to schedule an appointment to discuss these issues with our analystGreg Whelan.

The Future of Broadband CPE: Part I

At Stake: Who Controls the entire home, the service provider or the web company?
The network-terminating CPE device provided by the access network service provider is at an inflection point: it’s at the intersection of service providers’ business drivers and emerging technologies. What’s at stake is control of the entire home and all the revenue generating up-sell opportunities, including emerging Internet of Things services. Access network service providers must decipher this paradigm or risk being usurped by the web companies.
Customer Premise Equipment or CPE historically meant customer owned equipment. In the case of a T1 circuit the service provider would terminate the network with a CSU/DSU and would connect to the customer-owned access router. If there was an issue, the SP would perform a loop-back test to the CSU/DSU and if it passed the test they were done with support. The same is true with legacy home telephony. If there’s a dial tone at the Network Interface Device, the gray box attached to the outside your home, the telco is “done.” If you still have issues beyond that it’s your home wiring, which the ILEC’s no longer manage (for free anyway).
In the early days of broadband, the service provider, telco and cable company would terminate their connections with a DSL or cable modem. The premise facing interface was Ethernet (Layer 2 interface). When consumers wanted to connect more than one device to the Internet they would acquire a Wi-Fi router (Layer 3) through the retail channel.
Today, service providers are combining the modem functionality with the Wi-Fi routing functionality in to a single device. Interesting to note is the SP is taking ownership of the Wi-Fi network, something historically they were loathed to do and could not do for regulatory reasons. The more functionality an SP takes ownership of the more they are responsible for. This leads to the inevitable increase in help calls.
Competition is forcing them take ownership of the total customer experience. A poor experience combined with lackluster customer support is the number one reason for customer churn. Now the CPE or broadband gateway is taking on the dual role of terminating the network and controlling the home network and ultimately the devices and things in the home.
This is not without precedence. The set-top box has always had this dual personality. It terminated the SP’s video network and controlled the home video experience. This is even more prevalent with whole home DVRs. As far as cable companies were concerned the STB was part of the network when it was convenient and CPE when that was convenient.
Now and in the future the SP provided CPE device needs to do two things well. First, it must terminate the access network (Layers 1 and 2), hence the term “network terminating CPE”. Second, it must control and manage the entire home experience (Layers 3-7+). It can and will do the network terminating part well, but it also MUST do the home experience well or risk churn where competition exist or having a web company usurp them.
In future articles I will address numerous issues including:
1. Virtualization Options and Realities
2. IoT and Smart Home Implications
3. Distribution of Intelligence (Cloud, Network and CPE)
4. Distribution of Intelligence (CO/HE, Outside Plant and CPE)
5. Wi-Fi & LTE Convergence
6. Business Models, Value Chains and the N-Dimensional Ecosystem Dynamics
If you would like us to help you navigate the future of broadband CPE industry-wide dynamics and opportunities contact Greg Whelan at