Keeping customers with Wi-Fi offloading

Marc Price
Openet
With operators increasingly challenged to deliver high quality service within congested urban areas, it makes sense for them to consider supplementing cellular connectivity with open Wi-Fi networks common in cafes, restaurants and shops.
 
An immediate challenge enabling such a strategy is seamlessness. It’s not realistic to ask customers to keep alert for hotspots and manually connect when one is available.
 
One solution getting a lot of attention is crowdsourcing. Here, special software on the phone quietly monitors for Wi-Fi networks. When an open network is found, the hotspot location is uploaded to a central database. Other phones use the database information to automatically join listed networks.
 
It is reasonable to hope the user experience using public networks will often be a fairly good one. On the other hand, there’s no guarantee.
 
Wi-Fi does not scale efficiently. If the operator cannot make connectivity decisions based on the relative capacity of different networks, operators can inadvertently compromise the user experience.
 
This is especially true in crowded areas such as airports. A common customer complaint is that a phone suddenly stops working because it has automatically joined the overloaded airport Wi-Fi network and access has to be manually turned.
 
A second issue is that information flowing within open Wi-Fi networks can be easily monitored by anyone using readily available network tools.
 
A cellular network is much more difficult to casually monitor. By seamlessly moving a user onto an open Wi-Fi network, the operator is potentially exposing their customer without their knowledge or consent.
 
At best, this can compromise the relationship the operator has with their customer. At worst it can represent a significant security threat.
 

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