The nice thing about WiFi, as Cablevision Systems in particular, and Time Warner Cable and Comcast are finding in the New York City metro area, is that it's a virtually unlimited resource. Unlike licensed wireless spectrum for mobile, unlicensed WiFi systems can be constructed like Lego creations, building blocks upon blocks of access points; when more spectrum is needed, more access points can be easily added.
This means that Cablevision set up a mesh network of WiFi access points or hotspots and commuters riding the rails around the city and suburbs can maintain wireless connectivity as if they were using a slower, weaker 3G data link.
"The other thing is WiFi is 10 times faster than 3G and 70 percent or so cheaper on a cost-per-bit basis," says David Sharpley, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Bridgewater Systems.
The pieces just naturally fall into place for WiFi to be the wireless option of choice for cable companies eager to untether their residential and business subscribers but unwilling or unable to build out conventional mobile cellular networks.
"We've been working with a lot of the cable operators as they look to deploy a lot of different WiFi services," says Sharpley.
Bridgewater's technology contribution helps cable operators seamlessly authenticate subscribers as they roam around an MSO's WiFi system or even as they roam from one authorized provider to another
"We'll cache your credentials so that in the event you go to a new location we'll automatically re-authenticate you without requiring you to do anything from a session authentication perspective," he said.
The cable operators have to authenticate in the back end, but that's done seamlessly via different channels and SSIDs. And even those steps should soon be improved as Bridgewater applies intelligent policies to the authentication process.
WiFi onload, as he prefers to call putting subscribers onto the wireless system, is a pretty pat process. WiFi offload, getting that traffic off the WiFi network and onto some other system, is a new phenomenon and one that cable operators are looking to install.
In this case, the system would be used to offload traffic from more conventional 3G networks onto cable's WiFi links and then back to the headend for processing and delivery over the cable wireline plant.
"This is where fixed line operators may have a play in terms of wholesaling WiFi services to mobile operators who want to lower their cost-per-but and still provider greater user experience," Sharpley says.
Whatever the case, he says, wireless is a big part of the company's future--whether migrating from 3G to 4G to WiMAX--or helping cable operators maximize their WiFi offerings with a Radio Access Network (RAN) complete with policy management, data onload and data offload.
Finally, he says, there's going to come a day when that virtually limitless WiFi network is going to need its own help managing a heavy load of traffic.
"That's where the different levels of quality of service and applications can play a role. As these things become more ubiquitous, the same challenge is going to hit as the 3G networks," he says.
By having already worked with the 3G networks and helped move some of that traffic off those networks, Bridgewater will be in a position to help cable operators when their WiFi networks reach a saturation point.
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