CableLabs, the cable industry’s research and development lab, has formed a working group that will look at hybrid-MVNO options for combining the Wi-Fi and 4G/5G networks that cable companies own with mobile networks that the cable companies use but which are owned by mobile network operators.
Cable MSOs who do not own mobile infrastructure often use infrastructure from mobile network operators (MNOs). They use this infrastructure as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).
These arrangements enable them to bundle fixed and mobile broadband into single packages, generally with an initial focus on Wi-Fi services. MVNO platforms are a partial solution, however, because they offer different and sometimes less than optimal levels of control over subscriptions and service elements. The MSOs would benefit if their control was greater and they had more complete access to subscriber data.
“With the advent of 5G and the availability of shared spectrum, many MSOs are actively evaluating offload opportunities for enhancing MVNO economics and are contemplating deploying their own mobile radio infrastructure in specific geographic areas (in addition to their substantial Wi-Fi footprint),” reads a Cablelabs blog post about the hybrid-MVNO initiative.
As MSOs deploy their own mobile networks, they will need to coordinate three types of wireless network infrastructures: their own Wi-Fi network, their own 4G/5G network and the MNO’s 4G/5G network. This type of network — a hybrid-MVNO (H-MVNO) — is capable of offloading traffic from the MNO network to the cable company’s Wi-Fi network and to the MSO-owned mobile network. The challenge is engineering this in a way that ensures consistent user experiences and uniform and personalized policies for users moving between the three networks types.
One way of doing this is by providing dual SIM devices. As the name implies, these are devices that simultaneously connect to two networks. However, this doesn’t offer the H-MVNO real time insights into data usage or control over policy, subscriptions or mobility or user experience management.
The other way of approaching the issue is through single-SIM devices, which allow H-MVNOs to provide seamless low-latency mobility for data applications across MNO and H-MVNO networks. While this approach is optimal in many ways, there are technical challenges which the new technical group is exploring.
Cable companies are having such success in the mobile market that financial analysts at MoffettNathanson Research see them as a growing threat to the traditional wireless industry. Both Comcast and Charter have north of 3 million mobile subscribers and growing.