Wi-Fi offload strategies remain contentious

Wi-Fi offload strategies remain contentious

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch  |   February 04, 2014
Rethink
While most operators in developed markets need new capacity, and are fiercely interested in Wi-Fi spectrum and offload, the impact of Wi-Fi integration on the cellular network may not be as immediate as some had hoped.
 
At last month's Wi-Fi Offload Summit in Frankfurt, Dr Matthias Siebert, head of mobile access within the Europe & Technology group of Deutsche Telekom, outlined the results of trials of Wi-Fi hotzones, as an alternative to 3G or LTE, conducted last year in Hamburg, Germany and Rotterdam, Netherlands.
 
“We must find a cheap way of dealing with capacity demand,” Siebert acknowledged, and the 540MHz of unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum is potentially attractive. But when DT turned on its hotzones, they did not ease the pressure on the cellular networks, on which traffic was stable, or even increased.
 
The carrier's studies suggested that there were two reasons for this pattern – the availability of good quality Wi-Fi drives additional data usage and new behaviors, especially as users are relaxed about breaking data caps; and applications and devices also behave differently around Wi-Fi, with some being programmed only to work on Wi-Fi.
 
So while Wi-Fi will be important in the overall pool of capacity, can it “fulfil this promise of relieving cellular networks?” Siebert asked. “That is not shown here. Wi-Fi is not the solution for offload, but it has other interesting features.”
 
Some operators believe the immediate benefits of including Wi-Fi at the heart of the strategy will come from providing white label services to enterprises – UK leader EE is pursuing this idea and has its first major deal with Walmart's UK arm, Asda. Graham Cove, director of Wi-Fi at EE, said 750,000 customers have already signed up to use the Asda-branded Wi-Fi network.
 
This is one example of carriers promoting Wi-Fi over cellular, which can cause internal friction, but is even being adopted for consumer services, especially in the US, where several MVNOS plus T-Mobile (and reportedly Sprint soon) offer deals where Wi-Fi is the default connection and the user only goes onto cellular networks when good quality Wi-Fi is unavailable. This could help force the kind of relief of cellular congestion which DT and others have so far failed to see from just building hotzones.
 

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