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Broadcom supports community Wi-Fi to boost cablecos’ services

Wi-Fi provider FON, which pioneered the community hotspot concept, has announced that its global network has passed 7m access points, 2m of those added this year ‘ as many as in the whole of 2011. Its performance has given huge credibility to the community model, and gathered support from big name carriers like British Telecom ‘ FON’s largest partner ‘ and Belgacom of Belgium, its fastest growing.

Now, the increasingly impact of such approaches is not just appealing to carriers ‘ Free Mobile is using a variation to boost its disruptive effect on the French mobile space ‘ but to Wi-Fi vendors too. Broadcom has announced community Wi-Fi software which turns a wireless Docsis 3.0 cable modem gateway into a semi-public hotspot which can be used by roaming service providers.

Roaming is a key feature of the FON model, in which routers are sold to consumers who get free services if they agree to open them to other FON customers, many of them via partnerships with operators. Now Broadcom is pushing the model a step further, and its new software is already being tested by Dutch cableco Ziggo.

The Broadcom offering enables home gateways to share Wi-Fi bandwidth with other authorized users who are looking for connections when away from home. This enables the service provider to offer ubiquitous wireless access, not just via the usual networks of public access points, but also in residential areas. The chip vendor’s software has the intelligence to authenticate and connect roaming users without them having to log into the hotspot manually, it said.

The idea will appeal to cablecos, many of which have been building their own hotspot networks to add wireless and ‘broadband everywhere’ elements to their internet/TV offerings without investing in spectrum ‘ the US’s Cablevision is a frontrunner. Several US cablecos, including Cablevision and Comcast, recently signed a roaming deal to link their various build-outs.

Even broadband providers with their own cellular networks or MVNOs see Wi-Fi as a useful complement. Free Mobile has hotspots integrated into its customers’ home gateways, which can be opened for access by other Free users, adding the value of free WLan to its fixed and mobile services. Schemes like this and Broadcom’s enable them to plug gaps in coverage without investing in further carrier grade hardware.

Broadcom thinks Wi-Fi hotspots will become ‘fairly ubiquitous” in Docsis 3.0 wireless gateways in the next 12-18 months, the firm’s VP of cable broadband marketing, Jay Kirchoff, told LightReading.

“Broadcom’s technology provided us with an essential building block in our approach to supply customers with Wi-Fi beyond their homes. We are currently running a pilot to gain experience with larger groups of customers in a realistic urban setting,” said Paul Hendriks, CTO at Ziggo, which has invested heavily in Wi-Fi to complement its offerings. It is also starting to expand into cellular services, having acquired 2.6GHz LTE spectrum via a joint venture with Liberty Global’s Dutch cableco, UPC. The pair will also bid in The Netherlands’ upcoming multiband LTE auction.

“This technology enables cable operators to quickly expand their service offering to include wireless hotspots, allowing subscribers to remotely access the services previously only available inside their homes,” added Kirchoff in a statement. “We see this strengthening operator’s competitiveness.”

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