Can WiFi solve the problem of bill shock for travelling consumers and business users?
By Steve Livingston, senior vice president of carrier development at iPass
In the past, the operator WiFi market was considered a cost savings strategy for domestic mobile data offload. But today, they have the ability to make global WiFi roaming connectivity a key part of their service offering for enterprise subscribers.
A 2012 survey by the Wireless Broadband Association (WBA) revealed that operators are making a commitment to integrate WiFi into their overall mobile broadband strategies, with some operators seeing as much as 75% of traffic in the home being carried over the WiFi network.
Huge demand for global WiFi roaming The WBA suggests that there is a huge demand for global WiFi roaming. It highlights that 340 million journeys have been made using data roaming per year, and that the number of WiFi hotspots is predicted to reach 3.3 million by 2013 and 5.8 million by 2015.
Conversely, a Juniper Research report indicated revenues generated from mobile roaming will hit more than $80 billion by 2017, driven largely by consumers and enterprises relying heavily on mobile devices to stay connected, and new WiFi roaming interoperability industry standards to make it easier to access WiFi networks at home and abroad.
People have grown accustomed to the WiFi experience; more and more WiFi enabled devices are shipped each year, many of these devices are sold without a SIM card. Furthermore, certain device apps require WiFi connectivity in order to operate.
Yet, subscribers change their behaviour when they travel. When they are at home, they do not worry about how much data they consume. But when they travel, many limit consumption for fear of bill shock. If operators can seamlessly move their customers between WiFi and 3G/4G networks at home and at work, why can't they do that when their customers are roaming internationally?
Travelling with WiFiToday, 18 of the world's top 20 mobile operators have committed to deploying WiFi networks, according to the WBA. WiFi standards continue to evolve and improve user experiences. And data usage is growing exponentially across multiple devices, with more employees using their own devices for work and more business travellers choosing WiFi to stay connected.
In fact, a recent iPass Mobile Workforce Report indicates that mobile workers travel with 3.5 devices, and are selecting WiFi as their network of choice. Supporting bullish growth in the bring your own device trend, the report shows that the proportion of workers' smartphones provisioned by employers has declined from 58% in 2011 to 33% in 2012, while self-provisioning has risen to 46%, up from 42% last year.
However, the report also concludes that poor connectivity and simple access to WiFi networks is impacting workforce productivity; mobile workers care about affordability, speed and connection availability first and foremost.
Operators must embrace the opportunity To be competitive, operators must embrace the opportunity to monetise WiFi globally by bundling services to provide a full complement of connectivity and bandwidth options for their high value subscribers' needs. WiFi has the ability to deliver high speed connectivity compared to 3G, and it supports the fastest growing WiFi device today, the WiFi-only tablet. By bundling together 3G, 4G and WiFi, service providers can deliver fixed and affordable prices for customers who are travelling more and using more data-hungry apps and devices.
Operators can no longer shy away from the global WiFi roaming revolution. If they fail to address the demand for Wi-Fi, they are likely to miss an enormous monetisation opportunity. Those who understand the value of WiFi will broaden their geographic reach to a global scale, secure more subscribers at the expense of competitors, and will empower them with the best overall global WiFi experience.
By building awareness and preference for a full array of connectivity and bandwidth options at affordable prices to their high-value customers, operators will disrupt the status quo by allowing their customers who travel to achieve connectivity like they're at home or at the workplace. Ultimately, this will create new revenue streams, a better customer experience, and a very strong competitive advantage.
iPass runs a large wireless network, widely deployed client software, and a comprehensive device platform support, all running on a single open mobility service delivery platform.