By Dave Fraser, CEO, Devicescape
If you’ve ever emerged from customs after a long haul economy flight you may well have turned an envious eye towards the airline chauffeurs waiting, name cards held aloft, in the arrivals hall. These guys will soon be whisking business class customers on to their final destination while you, muttering under your breath, are still kicking your bags along the queue for a train ticket.
The service you bought from the airline began when you checked in and ended as you disembarked the aircraft; either side of the airborne section of your journey you were on your own. But the business class experience frames the end to end journey as a single service; the customer is catered for throughout, irrespective of the changing means of delivery.
Economy smartphone service
A similar distinction in service levels is now emerging in the smartphone connectivity space. Many operators still offer a service that, like the economy flight, begins and ends with one form of transport; the mobile network, for example. But others are integrating different means of transport, specifically Wi-Fi and cellular, to deliver a single, managed connectivity ‘journey’.
For the operators providing this type of integrated, managed service, Wi-Fi has great strategic importance and is a key enabling component of a differentiated customer experience. Business class connectivity, if you like.
Caroline Gabriel, research director and co-founder at Rethink Technology Research, recently made the following observation: “The more ubiquitous and carrier-class public Wi-Fi becomes, the more the battle heats up between mobile operators and their non-cellular challengers, to see which can harness Wi-Fi more effectively.”
It is an assessment of the market which corresponds closely to developments we see at Devicescape. Right now the momentum in this area seems to be very much with non-cellular challengers. This may be because, with no mobile networks of their own, they are more experienced at integrating diverse assets into a wider reaching service.
Network ownership DNA
Mobile operators, by comparison, have network ownership in their DNA. One consequence of this is a tendency to focus on the distinctions between networks, to view them in isolation from one another. Given the costs of spectrum acquisition, network deployment, maintenance and operation, mobile operators take a necessarily partisan stance on the means of transport.
The signs are that the competitive tension identified by Gabriel is beginning to drive change in mobile operator thinking, however. The more they focus on the customer experience they provide — a universally stated aim — the wider they must cast their net in the search for ways to enhance that experience.
In regard to Wi-Fi there will be a shift from focusing on what it can’t or won’t do for the operator, to what it can and will do for the customer who wants a ubiquitous, uninterrupted service. Then business class connectivity will really take flight.
Devicescape develops software for wireless networking, based on the IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi standard and other network protocols.