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Dutch cable operators grope towards free national Wi-Fi

The prospect of the Netherlands becoming the first country to establish a national Wi-Fi network delivering TV Everywhere services has come closer as both the country’s dominant cable operators, UPC and Ziggo, proceed with deployments across their footprints.

UPC Netherlands, a subsidiary of the U.S.-owned pan European operator Liberty Global, has followed hot on the heels of rival Ziggo by setting up a pilot in the city of Zutphen, where it already has a large number of customers equipped with a wireless router. The deal is the same as in other Wi-Fi deployments comprising hotspots owned by subscribers, who are offered free access to the whole network in return for allowing others to share their own "home spot" Wi-Fi. Subscribers can opt out if they feel uncomfortable with this arrangement, but then do not have access to the home spots of others.

This approach was pioneered by FON, which claims to have the world’s largest public Wi-Fi network, and has since been followed by some other cable operators. Comcast, in the U.S. this month, unveiled plans to give customers of its Xfinity broadband service access to public Wi-Fi via other subscribers providing they open up their own home spot. In order to avoid any impact in terms of performance or security on the owner’s homespot, Comcast is transmitting an additional "xfinitywifi" signal, by creating a separate virtual Wi-Fi access point on the same equipment with its own SSID (the 32-character name identifying a Wi-Fi network).

UPC and Ziggo are similarly segregating the public and home signals on their subscribers’ Wi-Fi hotspots so that there is no technical reason for concern about allowing others to hitch a ride on their networks. But, one big difference in the Dutch case is that the country is small and densely populated, with Ziggo and UPC between them having virtually the whole country wired up. The country is totally saturated for pay TV, with about 4.5 million of the country’s 7.5 million households subscribing to either Ziggo or UPC.

The two operators’ joint plan for a national network is therefore throwing down the gauntlet to cellular operators since it will bring the prospect of free dial up voice and email, as well as TV Everywhere, although it is not clear yet whether or on what terms the service would be offered to non-subscribers.

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