nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

Switching pay TV to consumer STBs risky without rock-solid Wi-Fi

Airties v Google v Arris wi-fi

Pay TV operators are letting customers use their own Roku or Apple TV rather than providing a set-top box. Without a rock-solid Wi-Fi solution, this could be a costly mistake.

Operators move to support customer-provided TV devices

Yesterday, Apple announced that Charter would allow its Spectrum TV customers to use an Apple TV 4K rather than the operator’s set-top box (STB.) Comcast is already allowing its Xfinity TV customers to use a Roku streaming media player rather than the X1 STB.

Both operators are responding to a growing desire by their customers to simplify the jumble of devices beneath the TV set. According to TiVo, nearly two-thirds of US consumers used a streaming media device in Q4 2017. Of those, 14% use them to access their pay TV service, and 18% say they have replaced one or more of their pay TV operator’s STBs with one.

Consumers are not just accessing their subscribed content from the television. In Q2 2017, TiVo found that 35% of pay TV customers now access their operator’s TV offering from their mobile or connected TV device.

However, there could be a problem with switching pay TV delivery from an operator STB to consumer devices: home Wi-Fi.

Is Wi-Fi up to the task?

This morning, Airties released new aggregated data from the 25 million homes that use its mesh Wi-Fi solution. The company says the average home has over 7 Wi-Fi connected devices. On average, the devices connect over Wi-Fi for 10 hours. The data illustrates that consumers now rely on Wi-Fi in the home for all their connectivity needs, including watching pay TV. Unfortunately, many of the devices consumers use may not provide the bandwidth needed to stream video reliably.

protocol use by home wi-fi devicesAirTies says 5% of Wi-Fi devices connect using the old 802.11g standard. 51% of devices uses the slightly more recent 802.11n standard, and 44% use the newer 802.11ac standard. 802.11g users are unlikely to be able to sustain an extended television streaming session with 802.11g. 802.11n and 802.11ac both provide more than enough theoretical bandwidth to support reliable video streaming. However, the amount of actual bandwidth available to stream varies greatly throughout the home.

In nScreenMedia testing of three Wi-Fi solutions, one operator’s single Wi-Fi access point (WAP) simply failed to deliver enough bandwidth to stream HD video reliably throughout the home. The testing also showed that performance was affected by the time of day, what other devices were in use, and interference from other WAPs in the neighborhood. Since Charter provides a single WAP with its broadband, the plan to use an Apple TV for pay TV delivery could be at risk.

Mesh solutions did much better. They delivered more consistent results throughout the home, though nScreenMedia saw a great deal of variation between the two mesh solutions it tested. Comcast released a mesh Wi-Fi solution for its customers last year, though it isn’t clear how many customers are using it.

Switching pay TV to consumer devices is risky

By switching pay TV onto home Wi-Fi, operators could face a whole new set of problems. For example, a Comcast customer trying to use a Roku Express to watch Xfinity TV in a location with weak coverage will struggle with performance. Roku Express only supports the older 802.11n standard. Apple TV supports the more recent 802.11ac. However, a Charter customer using it may still hit similar problems, particularly if there are many devices on the home network or interference from neighbor devices.

When customers have connectivity problems, the first place they turn is their operator. Wi-Fi is the number one issue for which people call their operator. Moreover, if that problem is stopping the customer from watching the NBA finals, he or she is liable to be very unhappy.

To learn much more about the factors affecting home Wi-Fi performance download the free white paper Consumers on the Edge.

Why it matters

Pay TV operators are allowing customers to use a Roku or Apple TV in place of a company set-top box.

These devices usually rely on Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet.

If an operator doesn’t have a robust home Wi-Fi solution deployed it could see a big increase in support calls and unhappy customers.

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