Connect with us


Wi-Fi takes over data role

The wireless world is changing. In the past, Wi-Fi was consumed primarily as a personal connectivity channel in the home, but today it is proving to be a much needed access medium within the enterprise environment and more recently in the mobile operator and carrier ones, says MICHAEL FLETCHER.

As Wi-Fi continues to grow and take its rightful place as an essential utility like power and water – industry players are looking at ways to monetise it and use it to open up business opportunities.

If we consider that monthly Wi-Fi data usage is much greater than cellular usage on 3G and 4G smartphones, it is evident that smartphone usage is changing the traditional access models and that Wi-Fi is cementing its position as the world’s most successful wireless technology, thanks to its widespread adoption across a host of devices, and its role as the dominant carrier of data traffic on smartphones.

In fact, Wi-Fi accounted for 78% of data traffic on both 3G and 4G Android smartphones globally, indicative that there’s some major business opportunities to be made by establishing Wi-Fi hotspot roaming consortiums that bring together what is today disparate high-speed Wi-Fi data access into a unified, seamless, high-speed network. What’s more, enabling Wi-Fi roaming and roaming consortiums could be every bit as financially lucrative for service providers as cellular roaming.

With the capabilities of the Hotspot 2.0 protocol and Hotspot 2.0-enabled, Passpoint certified devices, led by the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA), Wi-Fi roaming can now easily be done between hotels, convention centres, department stores, stadiums, coffee shops, and basically anyone else with a Wi-Fi infrastructure, including the mobile network operators (MNOs) themselves, who stand to reap the benefits through roaming agreements between themselves and with hotspot venue owners. With these roaming consortiums in place, users will be able to easily roam across the street, across town, or on the other side of the world. As the potential exists for a huge number of possible roaming partners both domestically and internationally, it is possible to build roaming consortiums with thousands of partners and millions of access points. What’s more, the larger the Wi-Fi footprint, the greater the utility of the service offering, and the greater the utility of an offering the more willing people will presumably pay for such a service. Just look at the history of cellular services as a valid and useful proof point.

The formation of roaming consortiums opens up tremendous new wireless revenue opportunities for first movers. These first movers could include a myriad of service providers that don’t even offer wireless service today, such as over the top (OTT) providers including the likes of Google or Facebook.

Hotspot 2.0 roaming consortiums are the beginning of a big trend of mobile operators leveraging Wi-Fi not just for domestic offload to ease traffic congestion, but to also give end users better service overall, along with a simpler and more secure experience when connecting to different Wi-Fi networks.

Making Wi-Fi as easy and seamless to connect to and use as cellular is a popular Hotspot 2.0 conversation topic, for sure. And it’s not hard to understand why. The cellular connectivity experience is well understood in virtually every culture, while, except to those involved with its development and testing, Hotspot 2.0 is still in the early adoption stage of end-users understanding what it can provide to them. Therefore, to say Hotspot 2.0 makes Wi-Fi connectivity like cellular puts it in terms that most people can understand.

Hotspot 2.0 enabled public Wi-Fi provides a service that can be made available to all Wi-Fi-enabled devices, allowing easy, automatic authentication by a number of types of providers, and support roaming consortiums with diverse business arrangements and models. In line with this, mobile operators can also make money by developing a huge web of business relationships, and though it’s impossible to definitively determine just how much money carriers will be able to make from Hotspot 2.0 roaming arrangements with venue owners of hotspots, the reality is that consumers are desiring to connect automatically via Wi-Fi as easily as they do via cellular.

Arguably, Wi-Fi roaming, as a value-added service, has the potential to increase carriers’ average revenue per user – given the consumer demand. Wi-Fi has proven to be the solution that works – not to be a replacement to 3G or LTE – but rather a complementary channel for data access, especially in high-density environments, but the trick here is not just offering Wi-Fi availability – it’s ensuring that we provide high-performance, reliable Wi-Fi.

While mobile operators may have their reservations when it comes to providing Wi-Fi as a service locally, and establishing roaming consortiums similar to what they do now with other cellular carriers, the growing global implementation of this strategy and how it is improving access makes it difficult to ignore. With Hotspot 2.0, now is the time for operators who haven’t yet to start moving down this path, with significant advantages to those who do, as many venues could limit the number of roaming consortiums they join. Likewise, users will flock to those consortiums with the largest footprint, perhaps even paying a premium to do so.

* Michael Fletcher is the sales director for Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

Subscribe to our free newsletter
Continue Reading
You may also like...
To Top