The Need for Networked WiFi

Wi-FiThe way that broadband providers wire homes continues to evolve and ISPs are always looking for ways to provide good broadband while cutting down the amount of time they have to spend in a home for an installation.

Historically a lot of ISPs connected each of the triple play services in a home to the existing wiring for that service. But this meant dealing with any existing inside wire issues, and it also meant stringing new wires when there weren’t wires where the customer wanted service. It was not unusual for a FTTP installation to take 4- 5 hours for a crew of two installers.

Today some ISPs have gone to the other extreme. Comcast brought a coaxial cable into my house and tied it into the existing coax in the house and put a WiFi router where the coax entered the house. One installer came to my house, installed the drop and wired up the services in about an hour. (It should have taken a bit longer because he was not the person that buried drops and so he just laid it across my lawn.)

A lot of fiber providers are taking the same path as Comcast. They drop the cable TV onto existing coax and place a WiFi router. While this has cut down on installation time, I have clients who are now re-examining this decision because a large percentage of their trouble calls are now about WiFi problems and not network problems.

There are ISPs that use the powerlines in the home to move data from room to room. But companies are abandoning that for the same reason that WiFi is having problems today. The problem is the big increase in bandwidth demand in homes. Customers today want big bandwidth and they want mobility within the home. Every room in my house needs to have broadband today. We have the typical array of desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, a smart TV, some IOT devices, and two Amazon Echos. And we often use them all at the same time.

Some ISPs have started to battle the bandwidth demand by changing the way they wire. One new strategy is to run a wire directly to the devices that use a lot of bandwidth to lessen overall demand on the WiFi network. For instance, I have clients that offer centralized DVR service and they are now running a category 5 or 6 cable to the primary settop box which can have a huge bandwidth demand.

But the one thing almost no ISP is doing yet is making WiFi work right. A WiFi signal of any power deteriorates when it passes through solid impediments like walls. It doesn’t really matter if you are starting at the WiFi router with 50 Mbps or a gigabit, the WiFi signal will usually die by the time it gets to the far reaches of the house.

ISPs are already reconsidering the strategy of deploying only a single WiFi router. And they are coming to different conclusions. I know one ISP that no longer supplies WiFi routers and leaves that to the customer – this way they can blame poor WiFi performance on the customer. But most companies would see that as very bad customer service.

Some ISPs are going to the other extreme and installing the best WiFi router they can find. But one router, no matter how good it is is not a good solution for a significant percentage of homes. The solution that is needed is to install a WiFi network consisting of several hotspots all sharing the same core router.

I think the industry is missing a big new revenue stream from charging to set up and maintain networked WiFi. Companies have always known that they make money leasing out boxes – and settop boxes and that modems are some of the most profitable products they sell.

Since customers want their broadband to work all over the house they are probably willing to pay to make it work right. Networked WiFi requires spending more time again during the installation, but it’s probably worth that to get happy customers. And it ought to cut down on future truck rolls that are really WiFi problems. I know of a handful of ISPs starting to sell the service and they say it’s very popular. It’s not hard to see why – the majority of homes are unhappy with their broadband, at least in some parts of the home.

2 thoughts on “The Need for Networked WiFi

  1. Would it make sense to use the existing coax to carry the signal around the house? Use it to get IP directly to the main devices like TVs and then also to WiFi devices in various places? Maybe some version of MoCA? From the perspective of someone who lives in an urban area, it seems desirable to use WiFi only for portable devices and only for short range.

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    • That’s what companies used to do and most of them still use the existi9ng coax for TVs. But MoCa doesn’t carry that much bandwidth, particularly when it’s shared on the same cable with a television signal since the two frequencies overlap in a lot of networks. So most of the big cable comp0anies have abandoned MoCa for sending data around the home – not all and there is plenty in use. But as bandwidth amounts increase MoCa is falling out of favor for data transmission.

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