Winning with Wi-Fi

By: Jesse Cryderman

When Wi-Fi first entered the marketplace, it was impossible to imagine that it would become what it is today.

Communications service providers (CSPs), retail outlets, internet companies like Google, pureplay Wi-Fi providers like Boingo, and over the top (OTT) application providers like Skype are all in on the action now, as Wi-Fi moves from best effort to sometimes the best option.

It's all about carrier grade now, and not the consumer stuff we're all used to. In fact, Wi-Fi can even be leveraged as a carrier signal for a new form of LTE called LTE-U, also known as Licensed Access Assist

No CSP segment probably understands this better than the cable companies, who are trying to move further into the wireless space. While developing their own offerings, cable companies have banded together to form the cable wi-fi alliance and expand their reach outside of the home and office. This wide-reaching alliance includes Bright House Networks, Cox Communications, Optimum, Time Warner Cable and Comcast (XFINITY). Together these companies allow each other's high-speed Internet customers to access to nearly half a million WiFi hotspots. These service providers call the wireless network CableWiFi. However, MSOs and MVNOs can also benefit greatly from a Wi-Fi strategy, enabling them to remain competitive as voice revenues drop and transport costs increase, thanks to surging data demand. Wi-Fi has grown up, and now it is a crucial component of the operator arsenal. 

Shaking up the game with Wi-Fi

While the Wi-Fi business drivers vary slightly within each region, this model turns the traditional cellular-voice paradigm on its head. Cable companies are already facing a highly dynamic and extremely competitive communications and entertainment marketplace. In EMEA and North America, they have evolved their end-user offerings to embrace market-leading fixed high speed internet access, Wi-Fi connectivity, and bundled mobile cellular services using mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partnerships.

Simultaneously, subscribers all possess Wi-Fi enabled devices today--smartphones and tablets offer many flavors of connectivity beyond cellular. In the EU, 71% of all EU wireless data traffic in 2012 was delivered to smartphones and tablets using Wi-Fi, according to a EU Commission Study, and this number is predicted to rise. While operators use Wi-Fi as a customer retention move and eventually a growth strategy, they also are increasingly turning to wireless backhaul to offset transport costs. This is evidenced by the growing popularity of "Wi-Fi" calling and texting which is offered by many leading MNOs. In fact, a Cisco's Visual Networking Index predicted that "More traffic will be offloaded from cellular networks (on to Wi-Fi) than remains on cellular networks by 2016." Operators are clearly keen on Wi-Fi, but how can they further capitalize on this opportunity?

Leveraging existing assets

In many countries around the world, cablecos and telcos provide access to numerous Wi-Fi hotspots. These often supplement coverage in crowded places, offer Wi-Fi in public areas, or leverage a second SSID model (like Comcast) to offer community connectivity to the user base. In general, these models are tooled around extending Wi-Fi outside the home under the operator umbrella for broadband services and video. However, telephony is another offering that can be exploited.


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