Is WiFi Ready for Primetime?

Sept. 3, 2014
Consumers continue to settle into the concept of watching video content on tablets and other handheld devices, making quality and consistent ...
Consumers continue to settle into the concept of watching video content on tablets and other handheld devices, making quality and consistent WiFi service increasingly important. And the concept of wireless set-top boxes is making its way into the mainstream vision by way of marionette-filled TV commercials. But with the bandwidth required to provide quality HD programming (5 to 7 Mbps) and the advent of 4K/UltraHD content (25 to 30 Mbps), the question becomes one of whether WiFi is ready for prime time.

The 5 GHz WiFi spectrum is providing relief from a crowded 2.4 GHz band, while 802.11ac has improved throughput and thrown in some additional features like multiuser MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) for transmission to more than one client. There also have been improvements in antennas with 4x4 systems supporting four data streams.

Is this enough for 4K? "Someone (may have) paid $40 for a single live event," saidCharles Cheevers, CTO of ARRIS' (NASDAQ:ARRS) CPE business. "If the kids are watching free VOD and taking up bandwidth, you need a prioritized service. You don't want to (depreciate) the quality of experience of the 4K (content). You don't want to buffer ... when they are paying for a service over WiFi."

This deterministic WiFi, as Cheevers calls it, would involve software-based policy and QoS mapping so that customers could prioritize their devices. This way even if there was transient congestion or interference from a microwave, for example, the $40 4K pay-per-view content will not suffer. "You can leverage the toolkit all the way down to adaptive bitrate when you have to," Cheevers said. "You'd rather have a 10 Mbps environment (temporarily) rather than a buffered 25 Mbps."

The consumer's role in the deterministic WiFi chain is indicative of his or her greater awareness of the WiFi home network and quality of service, in general. Most know that if they have a 10,000-square-foot home with brick walls, the WiFi won't reach the furthest corner without extension devices, Cheevers said. And there are apps that allow users to determine how good the signal strength is, in less obvious areas.

Going a step further, if an MSO controls access points across homes, it may be able to map them into a self-organized network where all behave better as a group, Cheevers said. If one access point to the Internet fails, but there is sort of a "community WiFi" within the home, the user could be given the ability to go online and troubleshoot the problem.

"There is a lot happening as WiFi becomes more meshed and ubiquitous," Cheevers said.

Additionally, there has been movement in the industry on HDMI dongles and small form factor, WiFi-only set-top boxes. But while they give users the ability to deploy quickly and self-install, many have only 1 x 1 antennas, Cheevers said. "WiFi requires antennas that are diverse to get performance .... In a managed service, (small form factor boxes) are not going to work. The trouble calls will be so high, it negates the low capex paid for them."