Opinion: Broadband providers continue to fall short when it comes to Wi-Fi

broadband, Wi-Fi

By Todd Mersch, Co-Founder & Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing at XCellAir

In the UK, we are all too familiar with the broadband arms race to provide the best, the fastest and the longest-range internet service.

So it comes as no shock that Virgin Media recently announced that its 100MBps service is now standard in the UK (and much to the annoyance of the other big three, Virgin is now faster than any other ISP).

What’s more, Virgin has also opened up its previously restricted 300MBps service, meaning top line speed for customers has increased from 200MBps to 300MBps (well, for those that can actually receive those speeds, that is).

While some customers across the UK will rejoice at the prospect of faster internet in the home, the roll-out from Virgin may not be all it seems.

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, was quoted as saying: “More and more switchers tell us they are joining Virgin Media for our faster speeds and we understand why – whether it’s 4K Netflix, box sets in multiple rooms or online gaming, the best entertainment requires the best broadband and we’re making sure our customers are covered with these bundles at incredible value.”

But given that most internet access inside the home is now done via Wi-Fi, Virgin’s promise of faster broadband seems to be a fairly hollow one.

While Virgin’s commitment to providing more than average web bandwidth in the fibre connection will be welcomed by customers, when it comes to connecting the rest of the home via Wi-Fi the promise of 100MBps suddenly becomes less sustainable.

For customers using Wi-Fi, the most important speed is between the router and device, not the speed being offered by the ISP.

It could be argued that the new standard speed therefore means consumers will be less reliant on Wi-Fi.

But with more devices being built with Wi-Fi connections, and more use cases for Wi-Fi, there is no sign of Wi-Fi use slowing down.

In fact, Wi-Fi is expected to account for 59 percent of total Internet traffic in 2020, according to Cisco.

So where does that leave customers, and internet connections in the home?

While Virgin’s new speeds are no doubt great for TV services, there is still a huge appetite for TV and video on a Wi-Fi connection, which themselves are the biggest data hogs.

In fact, more video is consumed in the bedroom than any other two rooms combined – and 10 percent of Wi-Fi video is actually consumed in the bathroom!

But video is only one small piece of the puzzle.

According to Arris, 72 percent consider Wi-Fi important in all rooms of the home – a response no doubt caused by the increase in internet connected devices like smartphones and tablets within the home.

There’s also the rise of the Internet of Things and advent of the smart home to consider as well.

From smart kettles, home surveillance and security systems, to devices like Amazon’s Echo, households will soon have more connected devices in the home than ever before.

There is very little point in asking Alexa to add dog food to the shopping list if your Wi-Fi connection isn’t reliable or isn’t strong enough in the kitchen to make note of your command. 

While Virgin is intent on winning the fixed broadband race, it seems that ISPs in general are falling short when it comes to Wi-Fi.

So much so, that 80 percent of consumers have at least some issues with their Wi-Fi, with a third experiencing frequent problems.

According to our own research, ISPs are getting the blame for this bad service – even if they didn’t provide the Wi-Fi router.

Having a good Wi-Fi connection is becoming so much more important that managing Wi-Fi, and ensuring that a good Wi-Fi connection is maintained is a service that consumers are even willing to pay for.

It’s an opportunity that could be worth a staggering $6.7 billion for ISPs.

But although managing Wi-Fi presents a huge opportunity for service providers, to date, most have been focused on capacity.

Whether that has been following the standards curve (and now upgrading to 802.11ac wave 2), or leveraging more advanced or “smart” antenna technology, the efforts have been focused on increasing speeds and the ability to handle more devices.

But when it comes to managing Wi-Fi, three areas are lacking.

The first is the intelligence to deal with the increasing use of Wi-Fi, which is leading to interference and congestion (and what is ultimately impacting performance and reliability, and leading to consumer issues with Wi-Fi).

The second is smart coverage solutions, which bring signal to every corner of the home and ensure each and every device is connected to the best access point.

Finally, there is a lack of actively monitoring, managing and proactively solving issues on the network, to ensure Wi-Fi is always working as best as possible. 

If service providers do not seek to properly manage Wi-Fi services, even the most hopeful of intentions behind initiatives, such as that of Virgin’s 100MBps roll-out, will fall on deaf ears – and continued poor connections. 

You can have as much “speed” as you like in a cable, but it’s rendered pointless if the Wi-Fi doesn’t work just as well.

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