Everybody loves a Wi-Fi hot spot â€“ that instant wireless signal that connects most mobile devices to the vast world of online content. But the reality is that connecting to a hot spot is sometimes more trouble than itâ€™s worth.
Sometimes hot spots are crowded with other users, bogging down connection speeds. Other times, logging in can be a drawn-out, intrusive registration process that compromises your privacy and time. Even worse, if a Wi-Fi hot spot connection is less-than-secure, checking your bank balance or making an online purchase could be a risky move.
TheÂ antidote to many of these Wi-Fi woes is right in your living room â€”the DOCSIS 3.0-enabled cable set-top box or media gateway containing Broadcomâ€™s technology. Coupled with specialized software, Broadcom is helping cable operators to offer on the go Wi-Fi hot spots â€“ dubbed Community Wi-Fi as a new service to their subscription customers. European cable operators can see the technology in action at the International Broadcasting Convention, the continentâ€™s leading trade show taking place this week in Amsterdam.
How it Works
Hereâ€™s how: Home cable subscribers use a media gateway â€“ or an in-home device of some sort â€“ that emits a Wi-Fi signal. The most familiar scenario involves connecting devices â€“ whether a computer, smartphone, tablet or even a gaming console â€“ to that Wi-Fi connection with a passcode.
Under this new Community Wi-Fi scenario, a friend who stops by your home â€“ and who is also a subscriber of your cable company â€“ would be able to instantly tap into the Wi-Fi signal in your home. Hereâ€™s the plus side: Your friend doesn’t need a password to join because itâ€™s not actually your personal Wi-Fi network that he is using to access the Internet. Instead, itâ€™s a secondary, open Wi-Fi connection thatâ€™s being made available to the cable companyâ€™s customers, via your home connection.
And by the way, that works the same if your local coffee shop â€“ or the people who live in the apartments above it â€“ are on that cable companyâ€™s customer list.
â€śItâ€™s a convenience item that the cable companies can offer, making joining a Wi-Fi network easy and at no cost to their customers,â€ť said Brian Wheeler, senior product line manager for the Broadband Communications Group at Broadcom.
Such Community Wi-Fi hot spots are already being put in action in the U.S. and Europe. Time Warner Cable recently rolled out a program in Southern California. And the Netherlandsâ€™ biggest cable operator, Ziggo, launched a similar trialÂ as a test for a wider implementation.
â€śBroadcomâ€™s technology provided us with an essential building block in our approach to supplying customers withÂ Wi-Fi beyond their homes,â€ť Paul Hendriks, Ziggoâ€™s CTO said in a statement. â€śWe are currently running a pilot to gain experience with larger groups of customers in a realistic urban setting.”
Security and Authentication
Typical public Wi-Fi hot spots â€“ say, in your neighborhood coffee shop â€“ have iffy security.
By using a cable connection, subscribers are guaranteed a safer, more secure surfing experience.
â€śWe have enabled the highest level of security between your computer and the cable gateway,â€ť Broadcomâ€™s Wheeler said. â€śOnce the traffic reaches the cable gateway it is then tunneled back to a server at the service provider, where it manages all the security. They have dedicated infrastructure just for this type of traffic to alleviate those types of security concerns.â€ť
Secure Wi-Fi can get even more locked down with multiple users tapping into a home network, where Broadcom enables the traffic of the home user to be isolated from that of guest users, adding Â an additional level of security, Wheeler said.
CommunityÂ Wi-Fi streamlines the login process for the userâ€”do it once, and youâ€™re set. Your mobile devices can store your credentials and will automatically connect you to the nearest neighboring Community Wi-Fi connection. This, in turn, helps offload some of the traffic from your mobile phone providerâ€™s network and cuts down on data plan usage fees.
â€śOnce you authenticate, you can store your credentials in your phone,â€ť Wheeler said. â€śFor instance, anytime your phone finds a Time Warner hot spot, you can immediately switch over and transfer IP data, which will help reduce the mobile data loading on your 3G or 4G network.â€ť
Not only do cable customers get the benefits of Community Wi-Fi, but cable operators get a boost, too.
It helps them compete with the large telecom companies and wireless carriers offering bundled, in-home services.
Itâ€™s an attractive add-on feature that doesnâ€™t cost operators a lot in terms of investment to deploy because Broadcom integrates functionality into existing gateway chips, said Jay Kirchoff, vice president of marketing for the Broadband Communications Group at Broadcom.
â€śThey already have the tools and the infrastructure in their networks,â€ť he Â said. â€śThey just need the software from Broadcom to enable this seamlessly .â€ť
Expect to see cable operators roll out Community Wi-Fi in Europe and North America by the end of next year.
To learn more about Broadcomâ€™s cable and IPTV innovations, follow our coverage of IBC.
Can’t make it to Amsterdam? Follow @Broadcom on Twitter and Facebook to catch all the IBC news this week.Â Keep tabs on the show with the #IBCshow Â hashtag to experience the merger of broadcasting and the Internet live from the show floor.
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