Liberty Global is the world’s largest international TV and broadband group with operations in Europe, the USA and Latin America. It is a quad play provider, delivering fixed and mobile broadband, telephony and video/TV services to a total of 85.4 million subscribers across its footprint. It has been a major investor in Wi-Fi to complement its wireline and cellular networks and has over 10 million Wi-Fi access points. The following is taken from the annual WBA industry report now available.
For public access, it has a combination of its own and partners’ public hotspots, and has been converting a large percentage of its home router base into ‘homespots’ (with a second SSID open for access to visitors or passers-by). This Wi-Fi network is a great deal more than a useful extra for cable subscribers – it is part of the “digital oxygen” which Gavin Sheldon, Global VP for Connectivity, says Liberty must provide for its customers.
“Delivering high quality access to the Internet, via a variety of technologies, is what drives us,” he said. That is a moving target. As customers’ expectations of the quality of their online experience rise, Liberty is continually evolving its Wi-Fi networks to support the capabilities which are critical to users – easy, seamless and secure connectivity, whatever connection they are on.
For instance, Sheldon points out that it used to be sufficient to install one good access point in a home or office, but now customers want excellent coverage throughout the premises, and no broken sessions as they move around, which may entail multiple APs, or improved technology to extend range and support handover.
The mantra is ‘always best connected’, and that is driving an important evolution to place more control in the hands both of the customers and the operator. The new Connect application allows users to view and change the type of connection they are on, while Liberty’s back end systems are continually enhanced to improve visibility of data traffic and allow the company to optimize their networks to deliver the best quality of experience.
‘Always best connected’ is a key competitive differentiator for Liberty – even more than content, which is available from other providers and the Internet. The “arms race” in peak data rates, in cable or wireless, is not the only issue now, says Sheldon – it is more important that Wi-Fi users get a cellular-like seamless, secure, automatic experience. When they receive that, they are more loyal, more satisfied and tend to spend more, so the impact on the business is significant.
To continue to build this differentiation will involve embracing new Wi-Fi technologies as they emerge, from new standards such as 802.11ax to expanded use of Passpoint authentication. There are challenges in the Wi-Fi environment, says Sheldon, because it is an unregulated medium and devices do not always support standards in a consistent way. This is why industry associations like the WBA are important, to introduce consistent testing and certification and drive raw standards into the business case.