Court decision threatens Liberty Global’s homespot plans in Germany

WiFi symbol in highlight concrete wall.

A court in Cologne, Germany has raised a serious concern about the use of homespots across Europe, and certainly the rest of Germany, deciding that Liberty Global’s Unitymedia has to get an opt-in for each of its homespot owners. So far it has relied on an opt-out process and prior opt-in attempts led to service penetration of only 5% to 10%.

It has been well understood for some years now, ever since FON invented the idea of put-ting a second SSID on a home gateway, that if you have to get each user to agree to open that SSID for public use, it makes the provision of homespot services virtually impossible across a large country like Germany. Deutsche Telekom has tried it and ended up with a tiny number in active use.

Liberty Global will appeal and it certainly should, because FON-style homespots, which rely on telco networks for the most part, have one key, significant difference from those deployed by cablecos like Unitymedia (and other Liberty subsidiaries around Europe).

Because the DOCSIS channels which reach each home are dynamically allocated, and they are not on the customer premises, they belong to the cable company, and they bring together multiple channels multiplexed to reach the customer’s advertised broadband bandwidth. The home gateway can annex separate and additional channels to support a second SSID, meaning that the customer is not deprived of any bandwidth to the home.

However, a judge might additionally point out that by sharing the WiFi of a home gateway with the in-home inhabitants, passing users may deprive home broadband users of WiFi capacity. Even this is stretching it a bit as there are software protections in place in all homespot designs to stop this from happening. In many cases if the home is using WiFi, the homespot can be turned off.

Liberty Global had promised to hit 10m WiFi access points in Europe by the end of 2016, but fell substantially short, and its last released figure was 7m, out of a potential total of about 21m home gateways which it has deployed in Europe. Some home gateways, in particular those designed before 2009, are too old to have enough storage and processing power to safely support a second SSID.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.


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