Comcast and Google drawing businesses into WiFi networks

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Comcast has virtually turned its entire corporate rationale around with the speed at which it is chasing down the WiFi opportunity, and now it has turned its attention to getting businesses on its side.

Business Services are Comcast’s fastest growing revenues steam, growing 23.9% from Q1 last year to this, a jump to $917 million of revenue, and that lead is reflected across most US cable results, with other cable companies following where Comcast shows the way, but clearly behind.

Now it has launched a new 802.11N gateway for business. It is dual mode so that it acts as an Access Point for both 2.4 GHz networks and 5.0 GHz networks simultaneously, something that was common with 802.11N and built into the standard. However, it also has two SSIDs, so you can have access to a dual mode device for your business and offer the other dual mode service for customers or allow Comcast to run it as a hotspot service.

Comcast calls the device its Business Wireless Gateway and says, “Today’s ‘main street’ small businesses want to offer WiFi to their customers to get them in the store and keep them coming back, but concerns can arise from over security and how challenging it will be to set up and maintain a Wi-Fi network”

Of course one of the real needs for WiFi Offload are high streets, where phones could use it for WiFi Voice and where the stores might use it to monitor customers movements and offer coupons and location based advertising.

This device and the Business WiFi service that goes with it are now being included in most Comcast Business Internet plans. There is an opt out clause for small businesses that don’t want the second SSIDs installed, but the quid pro quo is sure to be that the business owner and staff can use these WiFi hotspots themselves, as long as they opt to allow a second SSID to stand.

If our understanding of the Comcast WiFi passion is any guideline, these will be offered at irresistible prices and speeds, and millions will roll out over the course of the coming year. The company wants to target coffee shops, law firms, real estate offices, gyms and libraries as well. If it manages to install a lot of these, Comcast will have Homespots in urban areas, Hotspots downtown and Business Homespots inside the mall, covering more and more prime WiFi use cases.

Comcast says it will provide support for the second SSID users, and promises that it is secure from the business SSID. The device is based on a Cisco product the DPC 3939, and as standard this also comes with two VoIP voice channels as well, although this was not mentioned in the Comcast release, though presumably these can be switched on it the customer wants a phone too.

The product is organized so that as customers move away using an attached WiFi device, the connection will move from the 5.0 GHz channels to 2.4 MHz, once the signal gets too weak. That’s sensible, because 2.4 GHz signals travel further and this goes some way to preventing the bad apple problem, where a retreating or interfered with client, ruins connectivity for everyone else. in this instance the 5.0 GHz signal would remain untainted, although the 2.4 GHz might suffer.

Comcast is pushing the device as being suitable for a bring your own device (BYOD) office policy for the small business and says these will be engineer installed, not user installed.

The move comes two weeks after Google was reported to be putting a twist on the concept of providing free or subsidized WiFi to boost consumer usage, and addressing businesses, offering WiFi routers in order to create a US network of hundreds of thousands of nodes, which it will manage from the cloud. They will also get low cost or free access provided they join Google’s public network – another example of how the search giant will make its money back via a bigger network for its adverts and applications, not via access fees as in the traditional operator model.

The idea is to build a platform to which any business nationwide (and perhaps beyond the US in future) could connect its WiFi routers, gaining easy deployment and management, and low cost equipment. In effect this would add the small and medium businesses, which are the main target, to the clouds of residential WiFi already being created via the homespot roll-outs, and to public hotspot systems like CableWiFi.

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Peter has been involved in technology for 35 years, and is now the Lead Analyst at Faultline, a digital media research service offered by Rethink Technology Research. In his work at Faultline Peter has built an understanding of wired and wireless Triple Play and Quad Play models including multiscreen video delivery, taking in all aspects of delivering video files including IPTV. This includes all the various content protection, conditional access and digital rights management, encoding, set tops and VoD server technologies. Peter writes about all forms of video delivery is fascinated with the impact IP is having on all of the entertainment fields, and calls his service Faultline because of the deep faults which can devastate large established companies operating in the fields of consumer electronics, broadcasting, content delivery, content creation, and all forms of telecommunications operators, as content begins to be delivered digitally. Peter is currently advising major players and start up ventures in this field, and has both written and validated business plans in the area.