Over the past three years that I have been with the Cisco Mobility Solutions team I have witnessed multiple market transitions that are shaping the communications, collaboration and access landscape.
Today, we are experiencing yet another market transition, one that we have been anticipating for quite a while. AT&T announced the end of unlimited Internet on smartphone devices, such as the Apple iPhone. To non-US mobile users this may not be a big deal as many international service providers already either cap usage or charge on a per MB or GB for data usage. For those of us in the US however, this is major news that will most certainly have implications in:
- User experience and usage patterns
- Guest access network (aka Wi-Fi hotspots) proliferation
- Enterprise wireless network demand -- driven from the continued consumerization of IT
Regardless of the plan you subscribe, you will quickly become very conscious about your data usage every time you are using 3G. You will be anticipating your text message from AT&T alerting you when you hit 65%, 90% or 100% of your prepaid data plan. And you will most likely stop using your device for data once you reach your cap, to avoid additional fees.
As a result you will seek to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot whenever possible. There are many of those out there that are free or rather inexpensive to join. What we will see however will be a more concerted effort by companies/organizations that deal in the public domain – think retail stores, or public sector organizations, schools and hospitals, that attract many visitors daily – to fill in the gap that will be created by providing a guest access network.
Those organizations, depending on their business model may have an incentive to allow guests access their WLAN network. In the case of a retailer for example, one could easily see value add services delivered in a walled-garden that can drive brand awareness and customer loyalty. In other cases, it will be a lot more opportunistic, and actually a source of revenue for some. In either case, I believe that as companies evaluate their WLAN choices, a scalable and secure guest access network that is easy to manage will become one of the top priorities.
Finally, the requirements of the enterprise wireless LAN network itself will change. As professionals continue to bring their own mobile devices into the workplace and expect to continue to use them in a similar fashion, those users will require connectivity throughout the enterprise through Wi-Fi to avoid data plan overage charges.
Customers that think of their WLAN as a strategic asset have long been deploying pervasive networks. Still, they remain the minority, but have been asking us about things such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to provide both Wi-Fi and 3G coverage in a building. They are also very interested in technologies that allow them to transfer 3G call into the Wi-Fi network and back in order to save on plan minutes. And even though we still have ways to go before mobile voice communications in the enterprise migrates to voice over Wi-Fi we are seeing good traction.
What is more important however is the data-offload strategy that many of our customers quickly realized as being critical for their enterprise WLAN. The main driver up to today, was the often poor 3G signal inside a large building. With today’s announcement I think network administrators will have a lot more pressure to provide a pervasive networks that can satisfy the increasing bandwidth demand from all these different devices.
Cisco Borderless Networks provide secure, seamless and reliable access to information anywhere, at anytime, to anyone at any device. Well, today, this message just a got a bit more important for many of us.
So is it the end of unlimited 3G data or is it the start of reliable, secure and pervasive Wi-Fi hotspots everywhere?