I recently had the honor to speak at the Wi-Fi Global Congress in Beijing. As evident by the more than 400 people in attendance, the importance and relevance of Wi-Fi continues to grow. The Wireless Broadband Alliance now has over 100 members, a doubling in less than 2 years. The membership includes a mix of leading Wi-Fi, mobile, and broadband network operators; global service providers and media players; as well as technology providers and partners.
I took away six key messages from this exciting conference:
- Next Generation Hotspots is Alive and Well. One of the most exciting things at the conference was the launch of the live NGH Experience with China Mobile as the host operator and Cisco as the network infrastructure provider. Attendees with a Samsung Galaxy or iPhone 5 could experience the first ever opportunity to seamlessly and automatically connect to the venue Wi-Fi. Participants also received valuable conference information and services seamlessly delivered to their mobile device through NGH. This is just the beginning. With 15 major carriers (and growing) signed up to deploy NGH, mobile users throughout the world will be able to experience the next generation of Wi-Fi early in 2014.
- Wi-Fi Roaming is Becoming a Reality. Several speakers described roaming as being where cellular roaming was 15 to 20 years ago. However, with the successful launch and upcoming deployment of NGH, seamless roaming amongst carriers is now becoming a reality. Indeed, the GSM Association recently approved a Wi-Fi Roaming Annex that will make it easy for mobile operators to support this. As such, the WBA expects roaming to be fully automated across more than 80% of public Wi-Fi networks by 2018.
- Wi-Fi is an Important Part of the Mobile Network. The world’s largest mobile operator, China Mobile, announced a statistic that made everyone in the audience gasp. While their extensive Wi-Fi deployment only covers 1% of their geography, traffic over this network accounts for 50% of all of their mobile traffic. A recent WBA report confirms the importance of Wi-Fi as part of the mobile network, estimating that 22% of all of the network capacity added by Tier 1 MNOs in 2013 will come from W-Fi.
- Monetization—Beyond Offload. As Cisco recently identified in “Wi-Fi: New Business Models Create Real Value for Service Providers” operators are learning that, while mobile data offload is important, there are lots of other ways to monetize investments in Wi-Fi. Many speakers described exciting new monetization opportunities based on advertising, location-based services and enhanced customer experiences. Examples include, retailers who are using value-added Wi-Fi services to drive more sales and sporting venues using Wi-Fi to enhance the fan experience.
- Enterprises Are Becoming Mobile Operators. Bob Friday of Cisco made the point that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the consumerization of corporate IT are actually turning enterprises into mobile operators. They now have to ensure mobile connectivity and services to their employees both inside and outside of the office. As a result, enterprises are now trying to figure out how their Wi-Fi networks integrate or interact more broadly with the SP’s mobile networks.
- A New Mobile Network. Mike Roudi of Time Warner Cable described how, as a non-mobile operator, Wi-Fi offered TWC the opportunity to build a new form of mobile network. Through building an extensive public Wi-Fi network TWC could now extend its customer relationship outside of the home. Customers are definitely happy with this new strategy and TWC has the quantifiable evidence of this in reduced customer churn in its core broadband and video services.
The Wi-Fi Alliance predicts that the world will have 7 billion new Wi-Fi enabled devices in the next 3 years. The Alliance’s CEO summed up the implication of this fact and the phenomenal future of Wi-Fi up best for everyone: “This is only the dawn.”