CIO Focus

Survey Says: WiFi’s Worth the Money

Consumers Ready to Pay Up for Speedy, Reliable Service 4/27/2015 8:00 AM Eastern
TakeAway

Broadband subscribers — particularly in the U.S. and Canada — are willing to pay more for access to fast, reliable and strong WiFi service, per a consumer survey.

Consumers around the world are clamoring for stronger, faster and easier-to-use WiFi services and they are willing to pay to get them, according to a recent study conducted by IE Market Research.

 

What’s more, subscribers are willing to give up some of their privacy if it means a better customer experience with personalized offers.

 

IE Market Research queried 4,070 pay TV customers in 11 countries from Feb. 16 to March 23, according to Nizar Assanie, vice president of IE Market Research. “The survey was one of the most robust and comprehensive studies on WiFi and big data analytics to date,” he said.

 

Among its findings:

 

• The biggest problems with WiFi service are coverage outside the home and poor connection speed.

• Consumers are willing to pay for carrier grade WiFi service.

• Users are also willing to give up personal information and pay more for personalized customer care.

 

The survey underscores a universal truth in the business: In order to increase subscriber growth, cable operators must invest more.

 

WiFi represents a vast business opportunity and has become a key weapon that cable operators of all sizes are deploying against competitors. Members of the U.S. “Cable WiFi” roaming alliance (Comcast, Cablevision Systems, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cox Communications) have hundreds of thousands of hotspots to broaden their reach, and those numbers continue to grow.

 

Carrier-grade WiFi is an emerging investment for operators, but they’ll need to commit more capital to attract the most skeptical of customers, who want faster connection speeds for better streaming quality and more-seamless handoffs between WiFi and cellular connections.

 

If those items are addressed, consumers would be willing to pay more for WiFi than they’re currently forking over to their providers each month, the survey found. Indeed, the survey found that U.S. and Canadian consumers are willing to pay on average 9.5% more for their broadband Internet if it includes out-of-home WiFi outside of their home that provides a good connection speed, a seamless connection across various Wi-Fi access points, automatic handoff to cellular networks, and with automatic login, Assanie said.

 

How much more would customers spend for carrier-grade WiFi? That’s an open-ended question, Assani said. IE Market Research translated that desire into dollars, specifically a percentage of the average bill paid by consumers in each specific country surveyed. (See chart.)

 

About 66% of consumers surveyed would consider replacing their mobile/ cellular plan with a “WiFi first” offering, the survey found. That’s likely to be good news for Cablevision Systems, which earlier this year launched Freewheel, a new, low-cost WiFi-exclusive phone service providing unlimited talk, text and data.

 

Cablevision executives were unavailable to comment on the study but when the company launched Freewheel in February, Cablevision chief operating officer Kristin Dolan said: “Cellular was built for voice and WiFi was built for data, which is why WiFi is the preferred choice for data usage today. Freewheel integrates a high quality device backed by the strength of our professionally maintained carrier-grade WiFi network. As the thirst for data continues to grow, Freewheel provides consumers with a better, faster data experience, all at a fraction of the cost of cellular.”

 

Cablevision promised Freewheel customers connectivity anywhere in the world where they can connect to WiFi, as well as automatic access to 1.1 million Optimum WiFi hotspots across the New York City tri-state area, including indoor and outdoor locations.

 

“Connectivity, particularly wireless, is going to become more and more important to our consumers,” Cablevision CEO James Dolan said on the MSO's most recent quarterly conference call in February. “Connectivity has surpassed video as the primary product for a company like ours. And we need to continue to strategize our product offerings to reflect that with different packaging, etc., which is something I think we will do in 2015.”

 

CableLabs is working with its operator partners as well as other industry groups, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) to craft standards to help operators better deploy and ultimately monetize WiFi, Mark Poletti, lead wireless architect at CableLabs, said. Managing congestion, improving connectivity and creating seamless log-ons are essential to take WiFi to the next level, he said.

 

The survey found that customers in the U.S. and Canada are the most likely and willing to pay for carrier-grade WiFi service. So beyond reducing churn, cable operators can drive revenue.

 

The survey, commissioned by Amdocs, also found that 80% of the respondents would allow their service provider to collect individual data that made the marketing and customer-service experience more personalized. And almost 7% of respondents would pay more each month to get personalized service, the survey found.

 

The implication: Big data can translate into big dollars, if used correctly.

 

“Customers are looking for customized care,” Assanie said. “This question wasn’t asking whether they’d pay more as a line item for customized care. But they did see the value in it. There is a demand for personalized customer support and better quality of service and consumers are willing to pay to get it.”

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