Altice USA jumps on Wi-Fi 6 bandwagon

Altice USA rolled out Wi-Fi 6 capabilities for its top-tier Optimum and Suddenlink broadband customers, aiming to keep pace with larger rivals who have already begun pushing the technology out to subscribers.

Dubbed Smart Wi-Fi 6, Altice USA’s service requires a compatible router and will initially be available to new 1 gig internet customers. The operator said it offers 1 gig service to 92% of the homes it serves, but noted Smart Wi-Fi 6 will be offered with the highest speed tier in “select areas” where that plan is unavailable.

Altice USA had 4.36 million residential broadband customers as of end-2020.

Hakim Boubazine, Altice USA COO and president of telecommunications, in a statement called Smart Wi-Fi 6 “our most powerful connectivity experience yet,” noting it will offer “faster Wi-Fi speeds and a clear improvement in Wi-Fi performance for even the most data-heavy activities across more devices throughout the home.”

Specifically, the operator said Smart Wi-Fi 6 will provide speeds up to three times faster than its Smart Wi-Fi 5 service, improved in-home coverage and reduced lag.

An Altice USA representative told Fierce average data use and the number of active devices in the home rose both before and during the pandemic. "Smart Wi-Fi 6 was built to efficiently handle the increased traffic on home networks and help our Optimum and Suddenlink customers take full advantage of high speeds coming into the home," the representative explained.

Dan Grossman, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, said in an email to Fierce “Wi-Fi 6 has become table stakes for the industry over the past year,” adding that “as Altice continues to roll out fiber to more homes in their footprint, their home Wi-Fi offering has to keep up with their flagship gigabit service tiers.”

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Known formally as 802.11ax and informally as Wi-Fi 6, the next-generation Wi-Fi standard was designed to deliver higher data rates, more network capacity, better power efficiency and enhanced performance in congested environments compared to the earlier 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) specification.

Charter Communications launched its first Wi-Fi 6-capable router in August 2018. The Wi-Fi Alliance subsequently threw its weight behind the technology, launching a Wi-Fi 6 certification program in September 2019. Verizon debuted a Wi-Fi 6 router in November 2019, while Comcast did the same in January 2020.

Dell’Oro Group VP of broadband access and home networking Jeff Heynen told Fierce worldwide shipments of DOCSIS, DSL and FTTH gateways with Wi-Fi 6 as well as retail-based Wi-Fi routers increased from 800,000 units in 2019 to 4 million in 2020. He added a “significant jump” in shipments is expected in 2021, “though Wi-Fi 5 will remain the top seller for two more years.”

Heynen noted the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated operator efforts to integrate Wi-Fi 6 into their CPE “to better support the variable types of traffic in homes and the sheer number of connected devices in the home.”

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He explained “whatever a broadband provider can do to improve the throughput and reach of Wi-Fi inside a subscriber’s home, they will do it. If they aren’t going to do it, their competitors will.”

Grossman added that beyond providing benefits for customers, “service providers are focused on managed Wi-Fi 6 in part for incremental service revenue and competitive positioning, but more important because it reduces customer support costs.”