Marcio Avillez, vice president of network services, iPass, on the disruptive potential of Wi-Fi, and how the demand for seamless connectivity and mobile working means that mobile operators should see Wi-Fi as a complementary, rather than competitive, technology
Mobile operators are today coming to a crisis point; an influx of capacity hungry devices and an increasingly globally mobile customer base, coupled with new EU legislation that caps what the data roaming charges that they can levy on customers, is seriously threatening revenue generation potential.
Today's operator needs to adapt fast to a rapidly changing marketplace. The emergence of the iPhone and the App Store changed the wireless data market almost overnight. The recent adoption of mobile computing among consumers and business users has once again surprised many industry players.
What we know today is that there is an insatiable demand for affordable wireless data, and it is critical for network operators to engage in delivering carrier-facilitated Wi-Fi connectivity services for their subscribers – today – and not to follow a wait and see strategy.
Early adopters are reaping the benefits of investment in their Wi-Fi infrastructures, which includes securing prime hotspot locations, and the opportunity to gain a head start in the marketplace by analysing subscriber traffic and usage patterns.
Definitive differentiationThe Wi-Fi market is continuing to see tremendous growth, a significant part of that due to the ever growing Wi-Fi capable device market, which includes laptops, tablets and smartphones.
With smartphone adoption across EMEA continuing to rise and the vast majority of smartphone users already actively employing Wi-Fi for up to 87% of their data consumption (Mobidia), providing a service that allows end users to really get the most out of their multiple Wi-Fi capable devices will prove to be a competitive differentiator for mobile operators in days to come.
Being able to bundle smartphones and tablets onto a single plan is a 'sticky service' that will not only increase the addressable market size, but will also provide significant value to the end user, driving customer acquisition and retention. Value is especially important to the business traveller, who frequently roams abroad and requires easier access to low cost roaming plans.
In fact, one of the easiest ways that network operators can engage today is by providing their subscribers with Wi-Fi connectivity when they roam 'off net', or outside of the operator's local or domestic serving area, known in the industry as 'roam-out'.
Roaming outside the box Roam-out services, which provide access where it would otherwise be cost prohibitive or unavailable, means more affordable roaming for the end user, driving increased usage and mitigating the bill shock. It also helps mobile operators to respond to the recent changes in EU regulations which cap the charges that network operators can impose on European subscribers while they are roaming within Europe.
Since the cost of sending data on Wi-Fi networks is lower than sending data on cellular networks, a roam-out service provides European network operators with the means to rebalance their roaming charges.
Next generation hotspots add the capability to automatically handover connections between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Therefore, European network operators that have seen their roaming revenues significantly reduced by this new regulation are looking to move to Wi-Fi in the immediate future. For these network operators, they are looking to find legacy hotspots today and then seamlessly add new next generation hotspots as they are deployed.
In many countries within the EU, over 80% of data traffic is originated via Wi-Fi, meaning that Wi-Fi traffic exceeds cellular data traffic by a factor of more than 4:1. For European network operators, capitalising on the ability to connect their subscribers via Wi-Fi today is vital. By engaging today, they are identifying usage patterns and perfecting how to package Wi-Fi and cellular services together to address the needs of a variety of user profiles, ensuring that, for Wi-Fi, the sky really is the limit.