Wi-Fi opportunities for mobile operators and vendors: Public hot spots and Beyond

As subscriber usage and advanced applications increasingly shift to Wi-Fi, leading mobile operators are undertaking a range of initiatives to integrate Wi-Fi technology into their mobile data services, according to a major new report from Heavy Reading (www.heavyreading.com), the research division of Light Reading (www.lightreading.com).  This initiative seems to go beyond public hotspots into what’s referred to as “managed WiFi” access.

Wi-Fi Strategies for Mobile Operators analyzes the technology advances and ongoing standards work that will allow mobile operators and their customers to take better advantage of Wi-Fi. From a commercial perspective, the report addresses integration of Wi-Fi with the cellular environment, examines to what extent “managed Wi-Fi” should be made part of the end-user service, and explains why Wi-Fi integration should fundamentally be viewed as a platform for service innovation and revenue growth, not simply an offload solution to reduce network costs.

The report provides strategic highlights for 14 major mobile operators that are making substantial investments in Wi-Fi access networks, and examines the positioning of more than 23 leading vendors that are working to help operators influence and enhance the Wi-Fi user experience.  The 14 mobile operators are listed here:


“The growth of Wi-Fi has been driven by unlicensed spectrum, standardization and the cost curves that derive from advanced silicon design and manufacturing,” notes Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst with Heavy Reading and author of the report. “Paired with growth in smartphones, this has created conditions that have literally revolutionized the way in which mobile data services are consumed and how the industry is structured. It was the launch of the Wi-Fi-enabled iPhone in 2007 that signaled the game had changed, and confirmed that local-area wireless technology had made an indelible mark on the cellular industry.”

“With rich-media applications such as Skype, Facetime, BBC iPlayer, Spotify and others being designed to run over Wi-Fi rather than 3G – and in some cases restricted to Wi-Fi because cellular is too congested or expensive – it is clear that users derive value in this form of connectivity that is additive to the 3G wide-area experience. Reclaiming some of that usage and influence is strategically important for operators and is underpinning a renewed push to integrate Wi-Fi more effectively into their subscriber offers.”

Key findings of Wi-Fi Strategies for Mobile Operators include the following:

  • High demand from smartphone users and widespread availability make Wi-Fi technology a “game-changer” for the mobile data industry. However, direct opportunities for operators are limited. Low-cost hardware, unlicensed spectrum and link-layer interoperability have propelled Wi-Fi’s global reach, creating tremendous value for smartphone users. But these same growth drivers have resulted in many different types of Wi-Fi that are so diverse in configuration, performance and ownership that it is virtually impossible for mobile operators to develop broad-based Wi-Fi strategies.
  • The potential to capture value from Wi-Fi is so compelling that Tier 1 operators in all geographies have committed investment to evaluations and deployments. This is attracting major vendors and technology innovators back to service provider Wi-Fi and forcing it up the priority list at mobile operators worldwide.
  • Public access hotspots are the most approachable Wi-Fi opportunity for mobile operators. Operators are attracted to the hotspot market not because it fundamentally changes their economics or value proposition, but because it is an actionable opportunity. Subscribers see clear incremental benefit from having Wi-Fi bundled with their data plans, and operators can ensure reasonably predictable performance and add value for users via capabilities such as auto-login using SIM authentication.
  • SIM authentication is the first “proper” step toward Wi-Fi integration with the mobile core, offering security and usability benefits. Together with the Next Generation Hotspot initiative, industry-wide procedures for automatically and securely connecting smartphones to appropriate APs are being developed. This will finally make Wi-Fi a “trusted access network” from the perspective of the mobile core network – a fundamental shift in operators’ approach to Wi-Fi.

Towerstream is doing city wide WiFi in NYC metro area. Please see: Metro WiFi Reborn: City Wide Mega-Hot Spot for Mobile Data Offload