Cable operators were among the first in the telecom space to start to take the home experience seriously, but there have been a range of announcements from other telecom operators over recent months indicating the industry as a whole is now focusing on the issue.

At a recent cable conference in London, the panel which provoked one of the most interesting discussions between participants was one focused on the in-home experience and whether this was explicitly part of the service provider’s responsibility.

Attitudes ranged from “no, it stops at the door” to “of course it is”. A couple of cable operators from the latter camp were also keen to highlight newly-launched commercial solutions targeting issues including blackspots and seamlessly connecting new devices to home networks.

Home experience a growing focus
While cable operators were among the first to start to take the home experience seriously, there have been a range of announcements of similar services from other telecom operators over recent months. Examples in Europe include:
– Bouygues announced it will deploy a managed home Wi-Fi solution to its broadband customers in France, using the AirTies Smart Wi-Fi software and Mesh extenders;
– BT chose a white-label mesh Wi-Fi solution as the basis for its Whole Home Wi-Fi solution, with an app that advises on device placement and Wi-Fi discs that self-configure;
– Virgin Media has offered a similar service, with a new app which monitors Wi-Fi signal strength in the home. Customers can order a Wi-Fi booster when blackspots are identified, a feature that is free to higher-tier customers.

Having tried the Virgin app myself I can testify that it works, and I received a power line adapter set soon after using it to identify blackspots in my home. While this adapter feels a less future-ready and slightly clunkier choice than the mesh Wi-Fi solutions favoured by others, it certainly works and offers a more reliable connection than my previous Wi-Fi booster.

Interestingly the services from BT and Virgin offer a range of additional features, including the ability to proactively manage the whole network including temporarily pausing internet access or blocking access for specific devices.

From a strategic perspective, the move to offer managed Wi-Fi services has two benefits, namely generating incremental revenues and reducing costs.

Typically operators are positioning these managed Wi-Fi services as either a premium service for an additional cost, or including them for free in higher-end packages. As well as a new source of revenue, these services can be an important a tool for churn reduction as satisfied customers are typically less likely to switch. In-home connectivity problems can be a major source of calls to customer support teams, and issues can be challenging if not impossible to solve remotely. So addressing these issues upfront can be an important cost saver at a time when operators are looking to increasingly digitise their customer service functions.

Among multiple networks and standards, don’t forget the customer
As we enter the gigabit era, with a range of access technologies promising ever higher speeds to end users (whether delivered over FTTH, cable networks, fixed wireless access, or pure mobile), it is important that, in the real world, customers get to experience something close to what they are promised by operator marketing. As noted above, operators will increasingly need to accept responsibility for the in home experience, especially if the higher speeds on offer mean higher prices for customers, rather than adopting a somewhat utility style perspective that their responsibility ends at the home gateway.

With the advent of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard alongside the launch of 5G services, consumers are facing an often bewildering array of acronyms and technologies, few of which actually make their life easier. At the same time, the growing number of connected devices in the home can further increase complexities for the non tech-savvy user. Operators which can address these issues, ensuring both full home connectivity and the seamless connection of new devices, will likely create a clear competitive advantage. As well as happier customers, newer routers and intelligent network apps can also provide improved information to operators on network performance, allowing issues to be identified and addressed remotely – again, contributing to cost reduction.

Technological advances could also help, for example with the promise of seamless roaming between mobile and Wi-Fi networks with the arrival of 5G and Wi-Fi 6. But the proliferation of new networks also highlights the need for operators to manage increasing levels of network complexity. This does raise a separate point, though: Wi-Fi and 5G will coexist for the foreseeable future, putting the onus on operators and vendors to ensure these technologies can be managed to work together for the benefit of users.

David George – head of consulting, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.