Telefonica and Liberty take new approach to WiFi gateways

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Fixed-line operators are increasingly using WiFi as a killer weapon to extend their multiplay bundles into wireless, and that means the WiFi-enabled home gateway is becoming a source of competitive differentiation. This has been seen especially in the US, but now it seems that Telefonica has taken the same approach as Comcast or Liberty Global, maximizing differentiation by designing its own home gateway and getting it made by an ODM.

This also falls within the broader new Telefonica strategy, also seen in its global video project, to design once and deploy in all its territories from a single place in the globe.

Telefonica is also taking a new route by launching a home gateway unit which can terminate fiber, act as a WiFi router and also as a video bridge. In some ways, this is a step towards the outcome which is commonly predicted for 5-10 years’ time – getting an IP source into the home and handling video distribution in the router, rather than having a specialist set-top box.

Something similar is used by the French providers already, incorporating VoIP as well as video and broadband, and these days mostly terminated to fiber. Telefonica nevertheless describes its platform as a world first, perhaps because its design is more inhouse than those used in France.

The Spanish telco will initially ship its Home Gateway Unit (HGU) to customers in Madrid, Levante, Murcia and Andalusia regions of Spain, wherever a new or upgraded fiber connection is added, and where the broadband speed is anywhere between 30Mbps and 300Mbps. By the first quarter of 2016, the new device will be available all across Spain and it is due to arrive in Brazil and Chile in the first half of 2016.

Existing customers will be offered an upgrade shortly after it is launched in their territory.

This is a massive global win for WiFi chip start-up Quantenna, which consistently outdoes the big players, such as Broadcom and Qualcomm Atheros, in launching new capabilities like 802.11ac Wave 2 support, but which lacks their scale to compete once a market matures. Telefonica has worked with the company since 2011, when it took a $3m investment in the business.

The Quantenna specification is interesting, offering 4 x 4 MIMO WiFi in 5 GHz and a dual-antenna 2.4 GHz signal as well. Presumably the 5 GHz signal is for full HD and UHD video connections around the home and the 2.4 GHz is for connections to smartphones and tablets. The HGU does have an FXS port to integrate VoIP, plus four gigabit Ethernet ports, and plugs into GPON using a Broadcom chip which can run up to 1Gbps.

Telefonica collaborated with Askey and Mitrastar, Taiwanese hardware and software developers, as well as with local Spanish industrial design company Mormedi, for the device’s look and feel.

The gateway shows off Telefonica’s new working model whereby Global Centers are put in place to deliver operational excellence. The objective is to ensure better decision-making, speed, simplicity, efficiency and reliability throughout the whole group. The HGU is the first tangible result out of the Global Device Development Center in Madrid.

Other devices which this Center is planning to introduce over the coming few years include LTE mobile devices, xDSL routers, fiber-to-the-home connections, cable DOCSIS gateways and TV decoders.

Meanwhile, cableco Liberty Global has launched a new WiFi and telephony gateway, with an in-built data modem and WiFi router, which can download at up to 1Gbps. It is available already to customers of Liberty’s Telenet units in Belgium and Romania and will be introduced to the US-based group’s other 12 operating companies in Europe in December.

Echoing Telefonica’s efficiency drive, Liberty will, for the first time, design a universal product which will be offered by all its subsidiaries in Europe and Latin America under local brands. The product was developed in partnership with the manufacturers Arris and Compal and is powered by software developed by Celeno.

A new generation of gateways is needed to allow customers the optimal benefits from fiber upgrades and new WiFi capabilities, said Liberty, which said consumer expectations of home WiFi quality of service were very high, as they wanted the same experience they received at work.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.

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