By Hardik Ajmera, Director of Product Management at XCellAir

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a useful visualisation of what drives and motivates people.

It features a pyramid with basic needs at the bottom – such as a food and shelter – and ‘self-actualization’ at the very top, a fancy way of saying ‘reaching your potential’.

A couple of years ago a new, updated version of Maslow’s hierarchy went viral.

It added in a scrawl underneath noting that people now valued ‘Wi-Fi’ as being more important than sex, friendship, money or even food.

While it may have been a tongue-in-cheek comment on modern desires, there’s something to be learned here.

The author didn’t choose ‘the internet’ or ‘going online’ or even an app such as Snapchat or WhatsApp as being among the basest desires for modern society.

For many, ‘Wi-Fi’ is now synonymous with getting online.

Most devices have Wi-Fi connectivity built in and fixed Ethernet connections are increasingly uncommon.

Mobile data connections often have a monthly limit or can get expensive fast.

If you can connect to Wi-Fi – assuming you can obtain the relevant password – these are no longer issues.

Yet for many ISPs, speed is still the key selling point for their services.

Ads feature superheroes and gold-winning sprinters and make claims of offering superfast, ultrafast, and even hyperfast broadband.

While speed is important for streaming video and online gaming, the ever-increasing speeds being offered by ISPs offer diminishing returns for customers.

Even streaming 4K video does not require the top-end speeds being offered by some ISPs.

Are these advertisements, stuffed full of speed metaphors, going to soon look as dated as ads that promoted a new exciting world of instant messaging?

What customers really want is rock-solid Wi-Fi performance all around the home.

Speed is all well and good, but not being able to get online in the first place, or having patchy connectivity, makes it a moot point.

Suddenly those ever-increasing speeds on offer are far less important.

Do people really care if a big file takes 20 minutes rather than 25 to arrive, when they can’t get online at all?

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

If the router is only offering 1Mbps thanks to local Wi-Fi congestion, then no matter how much better the connection the ISP provides, the customer will only ever experience a 1Mbps connection.

For most home users of Wi-Fi, their connection is through a combined router and modem provided by their ISP, sometimes for a monthly rental fee.

The router, once connected and switched on, is usually totally unmanaged by the ISP.

If the customer has an issue with the router, then troubleshooting is limited to a hard reset and – if that fails – sending out a replacement.

This approach to home networking is never going to reliably result in a good customer experience.

There will be those who are able to fill in the gaps themselves, by using the router’s unfriendly menus to change channels, or by installing cables to move the router, or buying

Wi-Fi range extenders boosters to extend the signal’s reach.

In reality, the majority of people just want a plug-and-play experience, and if they don’t get it, they’re unlikely to think much of their internet provider.

Some will complain, and indeed many ISPs are facing an ever-increasing customer care workload directly related to Wi-Fi issues. 

Meanwhile other customers won’t bother, and their interpretation of the bad service they are receiving won’t be that they live in an area with lots of Wi-Fi congestion, or that their router is in a bad position.

Instead, they will just think their ISP is the worst – and, when they can go online, they will tell their friends their ISP is the worst.

Some solutions to the problem have appeared – Google’s On-Hub and newer players like Eero, Luma, and Plume have made it their mission to solve the Wi-Fi coverage issue within the home.

However, some of these systems are expensive, and others require consumers to do the heavy lifting of installation and management.

The increased use of unregulated Wi-Fi spectrum by mobile operators, MSOs providing out-of-home coverage, plus coffee shops, libraries and even buses and trains means ever-more congestion in these bands, and the install-and-forget approach – if it ever worked – simply won’t cut it anymore.

Performance will soon become an increasing irritant for people and promises of light speed connectivity will fall on deaf ears.

Rather than relying on other providers, ISPs would be best advised to extend their service and fully managing Wi-Fi in the home.

There is already some recognition that smart homes are a lucrative opportunity for providers, but the first step towards this will be for service providers to make in-home Wi-Fi reliable and complete.

Only then will ISPs be on the path up Maslow’s hierarchy to self-actualization.

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