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Need for speed or need for services?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flex)

Homeowners today place high demands on their Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Gone are the days when they simply wanted to ensure that the family could take turns on a single desktop computer. Now, the typical household runs multiple connected devices and multiple data-rich applications – and the volume increasing all the time.

In turn, this means that the traditional means of marketing an ISP’s services – by focusing on the speed of connection it can deliver into a home – is coming under pressure. The solution? Market on services instead, and demonstrate to consumers how your ISP can empower them to access the latest applications, across multiple devices, reliably and rapidly.

Growing demands

How connected is your home? The government estimated that every household in the UK owned at least 10 connected devices this time last year, and expects that figure to rise to 15 by 2020. These statistics indicate not only the growing trend for families to be heavily equipped with laptops, tablets and smartphones, but also the increasing significance of the so-called ‘smart home’.

Increasing devices

Whilst intelligent fridges which would automatically alert the family to the need for more milk – or even place the online order independently – were amongst the most attention-grabbing ideas when the smart home concept was first being publicised, the reality is rather more behind-the-scenes.

Households all over the country have adopted connected thermostats, security cameras, baby and even pet monitors as part of a drive to gain more visibility into and control over their home environments, and in many cases to save money. Indeed, this sense of gaining intelligence into household processes and getting a clearer picture of how utilities like electricity are being consumed indicates in itself how consumers are getting savvier and demanding more clarity from their providers – something which ISPs should certainly be sitting up and taking notice of.

Increasing data

This vast increase in the number of connected household devices is coupled with a vast increase in the kind of performance expected from more traditional devices – the computers, tablets and smartphones. Whilst the average smart home component consumes very little bandwidth, the opposite is true of innovations such as HD streaming, 8K streaming and virtual or augmented reality applications.

As of February 2018, 72 per cent of UK households were said to own HDTV and HD-ready TV sets. Meanwhile, the extreme popularity of mass online games such as Minecraft and Fortnite – as well as the rising popularity of esports – illustrate how online, high-definition gaming is becoming the new normal in households all over the country.

Environmental complications

Environmental challenges within consumers’ homes are, similarly, not part of ISPs’ remit and yet can have a substantial impact on the performance of WiFi, regardless of the speed of connection being supplied.

Broadband Technology Report surveys suggest that ‘the size of the home, the walls or the materials’ are the most common factors in blocking home WiFi signals and causing ‘dead zones’. It is also important to consider home layout complexity, interference from neighbouring routers, and crowded areas around the router. Any of these challenges can result in a poor customer experience and consequent reputation damage for the ISP, even though they are not at fault.

Speed vs services

What does all this add up to? The more connected devices and the more heavy-duty applications a household is running – and statistics suggest that the only trajectory is up – the more likely the WiFi is to become overloaded and perform poorly. The upshot for ISPs – even though they have no control over how many devices and which applications individuals use their internet for – could be a reputation for poor service.

The message for ISPs is that merely promising high network speeds to consumers is no longer enough to ensure a competitive edge – or even competitive customer service. They simply can no longer guarantee that running a high-speed connection into an individual’s home will result in top-quality WiFi performance within the home – and that likelihood is decreasing as the demands on household WiFi go up.

However, solutions are available. Powerline communications (PLC) adaptors have long been popular with ISPs seeking to get ahead of the curve in terms of the environmental and internal logistics challenges their customers might face. The adaptors boost the performance of WiFi within the home.

Now, the updated powerline communications standard looks set to deliver a hefty boost to WiFi performance in homes using these PLC-based connections. The second-generation update to the standard means that PLC units should be able to deliver 80 Mbps streams on the vast majority of PLC-based network connections – a huge boost in performance and precisely what is required to respond to these new performance demands. The update also means improved stability and a greater PLC range of up to 500 metres – enough to cover all but the very largest houses!

Ultimately, ISPs need to take a two-pronged strategy. First, they need to appreciate that speed and speed alone is a very limited way of marketing home internet services in an era where consumers are running a vast array of rich data applications and a huge variety of devices.

This means that there are genuine opportunities for differential marketing, and for positioning WiFi services in line with the services that consumers want to access – rather like high-powered laptops being specifically marketing for video production, or gaming. Second, ISPs need to back up such service-based promises with the technology to ensure reliable WiFi throughout the home – which could well mean PLC units.

Sebastian Richter, Director Product Management Home Networking, devolo (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Flex

Sebastian Richter is the Director of Product Management Home Networking at devolo AG