Driven by customer expectations for online video quality, cable MSOs are making a transition from best-effort to managed Wi-Fi networks.

In fact, carrier-grade Wi-Fi hotspots will grow from 14% today to 72% of overall Wi-Fi hotspots by 2018, according to a study commissioned by Amdocs.

The research, conducted by Real Wireless and Rethink Technology Research, reveals plans for massive growth in carrier-grade Wi-Fi, the different strategies operators intend deploying and the technical barriers to be overcome. It shows that providers realise that best-efforts Wi-Fi is becoming less profitable and that new revenue streams can only be built once a higher quality of experience (QoE) is assured. This higher QoE is necessary for services such as TV everywhere, health monitoring, online gaming, media streaming and so on.

Almost all operators (85%) plan to invest in carrier-grade Wi-Fi by 2016. MSOs see carrier-grade Wi-Fi providing better positioning in mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) deals, supporting quad-play offerings and wireless services, while MNOs plan to use carrier-grade Wi-Fi broaden their networks and offload radio access network (RAN) traffic.

Also, by 2016, 77% of service providers plan to implement 'home-spots' (where the user agrees to leave the hotspot open for use by passers-by), growing from 30% today.

By the end of 2016, 61% of MSO's Wi-Fi hotspots, and 70% of MNOs', will be sourced from third parties to take advantage of shared cost savings and accelerated deployment, up from 45% in today.

Two-thirds (65%) of respondents placed the lack of strong network planning and management tools in their top three risk factors for investing in carrier-grade Wi-Fi, with 65% stating that their existing tools will not extend well to Wi-Fi without additional investment.

"Service providers are starting to see Wi-Fi as a strategically important offering that can enhance or damage their reputations and which needs to support a user experience comparable to that of cellular networks," said Oliver Bosshard, managing consultant at Real Wireless. "Best-effort Wi-Fi networks are not controlled from the operator's core network or operational support systems tools, and the access points often do not support any form of traffic management or prioritisation. As a result, operators are unable to monitor or address performance issues such as congestion, meaning they cannot guarantee QoE - properties such as connection speed, latency or prioritisation that are all critical to enable the monetisation options for Wi-Fi."