Does Wi-Fi First herald the final curtain for mobile operators?

Posted on November 11, 2014

Rivalry makes for a far better narrative than co-operation, as the plots of countless literary works illustrate. What’s interesting, though, is that many of the great tales of conflict end in reconciliation; usually when both sides have learnt the folly of that conflict to their cost.

The story of Wi-Fi and cellular might lack the literary clout of, say, Romeo and Juliet, but that tension between competition and conciliation is present nonetheless. I was struck by this as I read a very interesting story on CNN suggesting that end users might soon be able to do without cellular service thanks to the enormous growth in Wi-Fi.

Just as Shakespeare’s famous play would be a lot less famous if the Montagues and Capulets had sorted out their differences at the beginning rather than the end, so a story that threatens calamity for one party or another stands a greater chance of exposure than one which heralds collaboration. It’s a provocative headline, and perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek.

The reality is that the tale of conflict between Wi-Fi and cellular is all but over; the industry realizes that both are necessary, both can thrive and both can win. What’s important is to ensure that end users are Always Best Connected in the moment, however that can be achieved and according to needs that change substantially hour by hour and day by day.

There are many connectivity use cases today, and the industry needs to focus on meeting all of them in a coherent way, rather than seeing the landscape as one which needs to be carved up and walled off. That just restricts the user and restricting the user risks bringing a plague on all our houses.

One user doesn’t just have one use case, after all. Their laptop or tablet that lacks a cellular radio requires one kind of connectivity but their smartphone often requires another. The user requires both.

Devicescape has long been promoting the benefits and growth of Wi-Fi, so it’s great to see stories like the one on CNN that speak to the huge resource that it has become. But it is simply not the case that Wi-Fi negates the need for cellular — and cellular operators — when connectivity is viewed as a whole.

In fact the Wi-Fi experience needs to become closer to the cellular experience, not more distinct from it. Public Wi-Fi today is enormously varied in terms of quality, ease of access and security. These are serious problems that must be solved to improve the user experience. Service providers that solve them will win — and mobile operators are the experts in managing wireless connectivity for best performance.

Today we see mobile operators reassessing Wi-Fi with fresh eyes, and becoming alive to the benefits and opportunities that it represents. Just look at T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere’s recent (and characteristically provocative) statement that it shouldn’t matter how he delivers the best connection; just that he delivers it.

And, of course, there are operators without cellular networks looking to Wi-Fi First models as an alternative that suits their set-up.

Mobile operators will still have a healthy business come 2020 (although not all of them will still be with us, for sure). What will be different in six years’ time is that there will be hundreds of millions more people using wireless devices for whom there is no distinction between different types of access. And operators’ means of delivering connectivity will reflect that.

Certainly Wi-Fi First is a threat to any operator that doesn’t understand how to respond to it but it’s an opportunity for any operator that does. Not so much the final curtain then, as the beginning of the next act.

Hot-Spot the difference: Public Wi-Fi vs Club Wi-Fi

Posted on November 10, 2014

Recently Maravedis Rethink issued a report predicting huge growth in public Wi-Fi. The research forecast the availability of 47.7 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by the end of this year, growing to 340 million by the end of 2018. That is exciting and underscores the increasingly ubiquitous nature of Wi-Fi and its established position as a key Read More

Everybody’s doing it…

Posted on October 20, 2014

The use of Wi-Fi as a customer relationship tool is really starting to fly. To pick three examples on a theme from the news in recent weeks: Numerous airlines are launching in-flight services (with a view to one day replacing costly, heavy in-flight entertainment systems), e-Bay is sponsoring free Wi-Fi at airports in Brazil and, Read More

Wi-Fi calling: Completing the picture

Posted on September 30, 2014

Although it’s true that Wi-Fi calling from mobile operators has been around for a while, it’s been a niche offering. Of course there have been all the over-the-top services, like Skype, but we’ve seen very few fully transparent operator integrations which allow you to use your phone number. All the hyperbole and revolutionary claims that Read More

Can Carriers Adopt Agile Practices?

Posted on June 16, 2014

Recently I attended the Telecommunications Industry Association Network of the Future Conference in Dallas. The conference was well attended and featured a combination of informative keynotes and a series of lively panel discussions. I participated as a panelist for the 5G Networks track Carrier Aggregation Across Licensed and Unlicensed Spectrum. (I wrote about this in Read More

Monetizing the Entire Data Experience

New opportunities for telecom operators

Posted on June 2, 2014

It’s remarkable how well mobile operators navigated the challenge of massive growth in mobile data consumption. For a mammoth industry—oft criticized for slow movement—things moved extremely fast over the last two years. The big shift to shared data plans drove alignment of data growth with revenue growth, while the technology transition to LTE helped improve Read More

Carrier Aggregation over Unlicensed Spectrum

Posted on June 1, 2014

Recently I’ve been following the proposals to use unlicensed (i.e. Wi-Fi) spectrum to augment cellular capacity. The most prevalent camp proposes using LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation, introduced in 3GPP release 10, where the 5Ghz Wi-Fi bands are used for downlink data, and all other traffic, such as signaling, is ‘anchored’ on licensed spectrum. The 5Ghz unlicensed Read More

ANDSF Helps Enable an “Always Best Connected” Experience

Posted on April 11, 2014

ANDSF (The Access network discovery and selection function) has been around for a while now—ever since 3GPP Release 8. ANDSF allows a mobile network operator to define policies on how “non-3GPP” networks are accessed. (In reality, non-3GPP means Wi-Fi.) It defines three groups of information that can be sent to a handset: Inter-system mobility policy Read More

Hotspot 2.0 or Hotspot Oh.No: My Carrier Wi-Fi Experience at MWC

Posted on March 7, 2014

Wi-Fi—and its Carrier Wi-Fi subset—has become a critical component of mobile network operator strategy.  Carrier Wi-Fi has undergone several redefinitions, but the next generation vision focuses on Hotspot 2.0, also known as “Passpoint.” Theoretically, Hotspot 2.0 provides a seamless connection experience for smartphones by utilizing the SIM card for authentication and leveraging 802.11u to advertise Read More

Posted on February 21, 2014

Devicescape is excited to showcase it’s engagement services at Mobile World Congress 2014. Accessed through any of the over 20 million hotspots that make up Devicescape’s CVN, Popwifi aims to better connect individuals with the places they frequent most and gives them the ability to share what they love about a particular place with anyone Read More