Wi-Fi: make it easy, make it roam, make it pay

29 Jun 2012

I’ve just spent the last few days at the Wi-Fi Global Congress in Seoul. The recurring theme: there’s money in Wi-Fi but it’s too damn hard to use, so seamless access and roaming are crucial to take it to the next level.

Also, you're thinking about spectrum wrong.

Highlights follow:

1. Let’s make lots of money

Alex Zinin CTO SP for Cisco Systems APJC, outlined four categories for Wi-Fi monetization:

(1) internal value (cost savings, retention, market share, upsell capabilities)

(2) B2C (self explanatory)

(3) B2SP (federations, offload)

(4) B2B (M2M, advertising, venue owners such as stadiums, universities and government/public buildings).

Zinin also illustrated how venue owners can use Wi-Fi APs to harness information and statistics about who comes through the building: "For example, you can track a customer walking through a shopping mall, send them an ad or a coupon for a store, and determine if that coupon is used and when it’s used. Once you can link that coupon to time and place, you can charge a higher CPM to advertisers."

2. Access made easy

This being ostensibly a Wireless Broadband Alliance event, the WBA were on hand to talk about NGH (Next Generation Hotspot), to include the launch of Phase 2 trials.

Even bigger news was the Wi-Fi Alliance’s announcement that it is now certifying devices for compliance with Passpoint (details of which can be found here). Seamless, easy access was a recurrent topic across the board, and there was general excitement over Passpoint’s ability to enable that – particularly in the area of roaming, which brings us to:

3. Roaming made easier

A panel session dedicated to data roaming highlighted the frustration carriers have experienced in getting their Wi-Fi services to roam.

“I can sign a hundred roaming agreements in the time it takes to do four Wi-Fi roaming agreements,” said JR Wilson, VP of partnerships at AT&T. “I like to say that Wi-Fi is a project, and GSM is a process, because unlike Wi-Fi , it’s the same process for every carrier.”

Malachy McGuinness, VP of sales and operations at Accuris Networks, said the telecoms industry has to get moving on Wi-Fi roaming ASAP. “We have to move faster on this. The iPhone’s been out for five years now, and it’s been creating havoc.”

Wilson predicted things will move a lot faster in the next couple of years as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place as long as standards are there.

Steve Livingston, VP of carrier development at iPass, noted that economics will drive adoption of Wi-Fi roaming, even to the point of developing a GRX model to facilitate it by next year. “As demand grows, that will create a need to do that.”

4. Please rethink spectrum

That was a key message from Henk Keynhans, head of TV White Spaces at the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET) and non-executive director for Skyrove. Keynhans talked about the possibilities of white-space spectrum and the value of keeping it unlicensed like 2.4 GHz is now.

“We talk a lot about spectrum scarcity, but you can do things like beamforming and other techniques, which we’re doing with Wi-Fi now. It’s not finite like land, you can build on multiple layers and get more out of it,” he argued.

“The internet is unaffordable to 70% of the population in Asia-Pacific alone. We need to change the way we think about spectrum allocation. One company controlling an entire band nationwide is not on anymore.”

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