Google WiFi in exclusive deal with Hong Kong Telecom

Hong Kong Telecommunications (HKT), a subsidiary of PCCW, has signed an exclusive deal with Google WiFi for its 2.5m broadband homes.

HKT will bundle this offer with its Netvigator broadband lines, instead of charging extra for WiFi, a practice which in the past has driven most customers to buy their own Linksys or Netgear device or better still, a cheaper local brand. Now, customers who use the  Netvigator fiber-to-the-home links can get Google WiFi free if they commit to a 30-month period.

Part of the rationale is to cut the number of helpdesk calls which relate to WiFi behaving badly. HKT has fiber to most homes, many of them in tower blocks (about 75% of broadband customers live in multi-dwelling units). The new Google WiFi must be engineer-installed, and will come with a minimum of two Google WiFi access points.

These rely on a Qualcomm IPQ4019 chip, a dual-mode, Wave 2, 802.11ac Multiuser-MIMO modem which also has an extra 5 GHz radio on board for dedicated backhaul between radios, plus meshing software. The other channel can talk to 5 GHz devices while there is also a 2.4 GHz channel which extends reach. The chip also supports band steering (pushing devices to the best channel), and client steering, (pushing the client to the right AP).

Multiuser-MIMO was invented so that an AP could cope with 10 or 15 devices, sharing them across four separate streams. But by allocating two 5 GHz channels, especially if they are 160 MHz wide, there is an increased risk that a neighbor’s home gateway will have fewer clear channels and there will be more interference, especially in an MDU, although that issue will only emerge when there are widespread installations of this device.

Most Hong Kong MDUs are built from reinforced concrete, and have a terrible time working with single-AP systems, leading to large numbers of dead spots – a problem which PCCW claims this system eliminates completely.

The operator says that customers will get onsite maintenance and 24-hour helpdesk support, calling its new service ‘King of Coverage’. It will be particularly keen that the system is good at handling video because PCCW offers both its Now TV IPTV service and its Vui over-the-top SVoD service, which has been growing rapidly. Vui users are likely to watch on a portable device, which needs to stay in touch using WiFi, as customers move from room to room.

Prior to the Google deal, PCCW used products from Huawei, but the Chinese will not have the same level of features until its next generation products. More and more operators who move to 1Gbps service levels are going to need to buy into more stable, higher performing WiFi services, in order for customers to see the benefits of the higher broadband speeds, and this may be an opportunity for Google.

Mr. Ringo Ng, managing director of HKT’s consumer group, said: “Coupled with HKT’s fiber-rich broadband network and expertise in home networking consultancy and implementation, ‘Google Wifi’ can bring to customers the ultimate WiFi experience through blanket coverage of the entire home regardless of its size and configuration.”

This is one of the first exclusive deals that Google has struck for its WiFi product, but it makes sense in territories where one ISP is dominant, as with PCCW, and we would expect it to consider more deals of this type, putting even greater pressure on Technicolor, Arris, Alcatel and Huawei.