I recently had the honor to speak at the Wi-Fi Global Congress in San Francisco. One thing is certain: Wi-Fi’s importance and industry relevance continues. While not quite the same order of magnitude as the Mobile World Congress, the event attracted 350 people, a tenfold increase since the last time the Wi-Fi Broadband Alliance (WBA) visited San Francisco. The WBA now has 95 corporate members, reflecting a member base that has doubled over the last 12 months. 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.
Stuart Taylor (middle) shares his insights during the Developing and Monetizing Your Network Through Partnerships panel.
I took away five key messages from the conference:
- Roaming and Integration Are the Next Big Thing: Everyone is excited by the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) initiative that allows users to seamlessly roam across Wi-Fi networks locally or around the world. The rollout of NGH will also allow mobile devices to simply roam from the cellular network onto Wi-Fi hotspots using a secure connection. Recent customer research from Cisco IBSG confirms the pent-up user demand for this capability. Eighty-five percent of people stated that seamless transfer between networks was important to them, and there was an average level of interest of 3.3 out of 5 for Wi-Fi roaming.
- Mobile vs. Wi-Fi Is Dead: The question is no longer which is better—mobile or Wi-Fi. The future is now seen as a true marriage between the two access networks. In fact, Korea Telecom talked about how they are creating an “ABC” solution—“always best connection.” KT, along with other operators, is developing solutions that select the best network for the location, device, and application, and make seamless handoffs between LTE and Wi-Fi. KT remarkably showed how it is currently seamlessly transferring video streaming and file-transfer sessions with customers between its two networks in South Korea.
- Small Cells: Smaller licensed cellular and Wi-Fi cells are now seen as fundamental to the next generation of mobile networks to significantly increase mobile capacity to meet explosive customer demand. Unlike macro cells, small cells can also be cost-effectively deployed in homes, businesses, and key public locations to improve coverage, ensuring that mobile devices can always be connected to the Internet. In fact, the 6 million licensed small cells in existence already exceed the total number of macro cells deployed globally.
- Monetization—Beyond Offload: As Cisco IBSG identified in “Profiting from the Rise of Wi-Fi,” operators are learning that, while mobile data offload is important, there are lots of other ways to monetize investments in Wi-Fi. MGM explained how it is deploying Wi-Fi throughout all of its extensive Las Vegas properties not only to improve the customer experience, but to drive new value to the bottom line. Location-based services and targeted messaging and coupons to guests’ mobile devices delivers a higher ROI to MGM than it can get from Internet advertising. Similarly, Shaw Communications in Canada described how the extensive public Wi-Fi network it is building helps them differentiate their core TV and broadband services and increase their pricing power.
- The Wi-Fi Land Grab: Operators are quickly recognizing that one of the keys to success in building an effective Wi-Fi network is, as in retailing, “location, location, location.” A land grab is going on as companies seek to acquire sites in key areas where people spend their time. Shaw Communications described creative techniques it is using to gain access to these key locations. Shaw’s bag of tricks includes everything from listings on Wi-Fi finders to drive traffic to the retailer; advertising; location-based services; and integrating with its enterprise IT to convince retailers and owners to site Shaw’s access points at their location.
Learn about innovative technologies that allow Wi-Fi networks to enable new devices, end-user experiences, applications, and business models by registering for Cisco’s upcoming webcast tomorrow (November 15), 10am PT/1pm ET: http://cs.co/9003pJIf