Securing better in-home Wi-Fi: Why ISPs have an opportunity in the hardware department

Internet service providers (ISPs) are at the bottom no more.

A year after tying for the lowest score in the American Customer Satisfaction (ACSI) rankings, customer satisfaction with ISPs soared 4.8% to a score of 65 (on a scale of 0 to 100), according to our most recent Telecommunications Report.

Eight of 11 providers improved. Verizon’s Fios led the industry with a 4% jump to 73, while Comcast’s Xfinity made the biggest leap, moving into third place with an 8% surge to 66 – and almost every facet of the customer experience improved compared to last year.

That’s the good news. The bad news?

ISPs, which have historically ranked low on the ACSI scale, only climbed into second-to-last place, and except for mobile app quality (79) and reliability (77), most benchmark scores remain low, ranging from the upper 60s to the lower 70s.

The data are a blueprint for how ISPs can address a pressing customer need right now. The question is, will they use it?

ISP-provided equipment is no match for hardware from third parties

For the first time, we measured the in-home Wi-Fi experience, comparing customers’ experience with ISP-provided equipment with those who use third-party equipment.

For the most part, it was no contest.

While ACSI scores for Wi-Fi security were comparable (75 for third parties versus 74 for ISPs), customers using third-party equipment were far more satisfied across the board.

They were happier with the range (75 versus 72 for ISPs), reliability of service (75 versus 71 for ISPs), how quickly equipment restarted (74 versus 69 for ISPs), and most notably, cost (72 versus 66 for ISPs).

This is hardly unexpected. After all, equipment is the bread and butter for these third-party companies.

However, if there was ever a time for ISPs to put resources into improving in-home equipment, it’s now.

Quality in-home Wi-Fi has never been more important

In-home high-speed internet service, once deemed a luxury, is now in nearly three-quarters of American households. But it’s often taken for granted.

That changed when COVID-19 relegated workers and students to their homes, switching quality high-speed in-home internet from a luxury to a necessity. ISPs have room to grow in this area as well.

This year, we also measured overall Wi-Fi quality for the first time. We based the scores on seven benchmarks: security, multiple device connections, range, avoiding service loss, service restart, upload/download speed, and price paid.

Verizon Fios had the highest score overall (77) but was the only ISP to outperform the top third-party leaders, Netgear and TP-Link, both at 75. LinkSys (73) outpaced the remaining ISPs as well, while Xfinity (72) was the only other ISP to beat a third-party company, narrowly besting ASUS (71).

Although the numbers don’t bode well for ISPs, there are bright spots. For example, ISP customers were happier with the variety of available internet plans this year, and they found internet service more reliable.

If ISPs can make progress in those areas, then there’s no reason why they can’t make similar gains in the hardware department by offering more reasonable equipment rental prices and improving the reliability of in-home Wi-Fi.

It starts at home

ISPs are no longer resigned to the cellar of the ACSI rankings. They’re not exactly a fan favorite, either.

But, with more people working from home, more students studying from home, and more people simply forced to be home, they’re going to require – and expect – a reliable in-home connection like never before.

ISPs shouldn’t expect to wipe away years of customer satisfaction woes overnight by solely improving the equipment they provide. But it’s an opening that could slowly bridge the gap. Will they take it?

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