ISPs aren't telling customers their router is a public hotspot

ISPs are about to be inundated by irate customers not happy about public router sharing, a research firm thinks. One issue: not being straight about it.

router chalkboard

ISPs will be implementing public hotspot capability to home routers in the millions over the next few years, says a report (PDF) by Juniper Research.

However, there’s a problem. Consumers don’t want to share their connections DSLReports the influential review and forum site says in an article related to the study. While ISPs are looking at home hotspots as a cheap way to increase Wi-Fi coverage, the “practice is alarming customers,” DSLReports says.

Juniper Research also thinks there might be trouble ahead. It says there’s a “real possibility of a backlash,” in its press release. It’s because the ISPs aren’t telling customers, Juniper thinks.

ISPs were “not necessarily making it clear to consumers that their home routers were in effect supporting public Wi-Fi initiatives,” Juniper explains of conversions to date.

ISPs send firmware updates that convert the thought-of-as private hotspots to public hotspots, unannounced. Bandwidth is separated and the ISPs have said customers won’t notice any speed degradations.

Part of the reason for the unrest possibly, is that customer speeds and latency experiences have historically been so abysmal that customers, rightly or wrongly, are reluctant to donate any of their bandwidth to others. They want every morsel for themselves.

ISPs have some explaining to do.

One-in-three home routers will have the homespot functionality providing dual-use by 2017 in Europe and the U.S., Juniper says. ISPs implementing homespot here include Comcast and Cablevision.

Customers may well have a bone to pick. While the ISPs are disclosing the practice when kicked, they’re saying that the conversions are taking place for altruistic reasons. It’s so we can provide more Wi-Fi for you all, dear customer, it insinuates.

However, in reality the dual use isn’t only geared towards expanding the public Wi-Fi base for customers. The ulterior motive for some operators is to offer Wi-Fi based voice services “in direct competition to the established cellular mobile operators,” Juniper explains.

Free Mobile in France has employed this tactic long-term on its fixed Internet services in order to compete with incumbent Mobile Network Operators Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, says Juniper. Free, an MNO too, had built out 4 million hotspots by 2014 in the 25 million household country.

Another motivation is for ISPs to increase its Wi-Fi base for aggregators, who lease services to telcos and other customers, Juniper says.

“Given the current concerns around privacy and data security, the realization that home routers can be accessed by complete strangers is unlikely to be viewed in a positive light,” says Gareth Owen, the report’s author, in Juniper’s press release. The positive aspects are that customers have access to a larger Wi-Fi base than just their home router.

Nevertheless, people aren’t happy. DSLReports says Cablevision has been sued over the router update sharing push, and that customers have demanded payment for the electricity used for the sharing.

“This is nothing a scalpel vs. circuit board can't fix,” DSLReports’ commenter TestBoy says on its site. “If any ISP wants to co-locate, and yes that's what that is, they can pay for it,” the member says. “I will cut the antennas loose on it. It's that simple,” he says.

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