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10 Predictions for the Future of Wi-Fi and Mobility

January 8, 2015 - 4 Comments

The close of every year brings startling headlines that herald the continued meteoric rise of mobility. This past year was no exception. The 2014 announcement that there are now more mobile subscribers than inhabitants on the planet exemplified the mobile zeitgeist and its importance in our daily lives.

But, the big mobile news in 2014 was around Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi continues to blanket the world, with iPass estimating that the number of public hotspots will increase almost 8-fold over the next four years to cover 1 out of every 20 people on the planet. And, Wi-Fi is becoming more like the mobile cellular experience. The seamless authentication and experience promised by Hotspot 2.0 is now available, with Time Warner and others announcing last year that they would roll it out across their entire Wi-Fi networks. And, we can now roam to other international Wi-Fi networks, like we do on cellular, with Comcast and Liberty Global, and other providers, announcing global roaming agreements. And, 2014 saw mobile operators beginning to embrace Wi-Fi in a big way. T-Mobile USA began shipping wireless routers to provide five bars coverage at home by allowing customers to make calls over Wi-Fi instead of the mobile network.

Of all the 2014 Wi-Fi activities, perhaps the biggest event was Apple’s announcement that the new iPhone 6 would support Wi-Fi calling (Voice over Wi-Fi). This technology bombshell indicated that Wi-Fi had truly arrived and should now be considered a true partner and complement to traditional cellular.

What does 2015, and beyond, have in store for Wi-Fi and mobility? The following are my ten predictions of what we have to look forward to:

  1. Wi-Fi will be “almost everywhere” – While we may not find it on mountain tops, in remote locations or along highways, Wi-Fi will be in most places where we spend our lives – homes, schools, work, shopping malls, hospitals, sports facilities, etc.
  1. Providing Wi-Fi will be a “cost of doing business” – Like providing lighting and heating, customers of retailers, restaurants, sports venues and all other customer-facing organizations will expect Wi-Fi to “just be there”.
  1. Consumers will expect Wi-Fi to be free, or almost free – The bar has largely been set – with the exception of some “expense account” venues like hotels, customers will expect to have Wi-Fi included as part of the overall service.
  1. Wi-Fi will become an important part of indoor mobile coverage – As the mobile battle moves indoors, Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi calling will be important ways for mobile operators to enhance their indoor coverage.
  1. Wi-Fi will be a key access technology for Internet of Things enablement – Due to cost, coverage and bandwidth challenges of mobile cellular, Wi-Fi will be the key connectivity technology for home, business and public IoT deployments.
  1. Public Wi-Fi will get better – With growing customer demand and expectations, public hot spots will need to upgrade their infrastructure to move beyond the initial “trial” phase of many public deployments.
  1. Service Providers will be the major builders and operators of Wi-Fi networks – Given the growing complexity and importance of their Wi-Fi networks, many business will want to outsource the deployment and operations to a service provider as a managed service; concurrently allowing SPs to expand their growing Wi-Fi networks.
  1. Wi-Fi wholesale and roaming agreements – We will see more domestic and globally roaming agreements to create a mobile-like experience. Wi-Fi network operators will wholesale network capacity, and site locations for licensed small cells, to mobile operators to help them to extend their networks.
  1. New Wi-Fi Max models – Wi-Fi centric mobile offerings, with cellular fallback, will expand beyond niche providers, such as Scratch Wireless and Republic, to more mainstream landline and cable service providers as their core mobile offering.
  1. “Next Generation Wi-Fi Monetization” – With public Wi-Fi becoming essentially free, businesses will look to new monetization models, like advertising, data analytics and advanced location-based services, to recover Wi-Fi network costs.

Stuart Taylor’s further industry research, insights, and perspectives can be found at his blog, The Connected Life

Follow Stuart Taylor on Twitter: @STaylorCisco. Tweet us @CiscoSP360 for any questions or comments.

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  1. I agree with the free wifi availability. In fact not just businesses but even Smart cities of the future will need to provide wifi much like water and energy.

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  3. I definitely agree that there are other pioneers in the VoWiFi space, many of them with great products. The importance of the Apple announcement was... well it was Apple. They have a way to really push and shape emerging markets. Just look at the market interest that they have generated following their announcements of support for low energy Bluetooth (iBeacon) and mobile payments.

  4. You said "Of all the 2014 Wi-Fi activities, perhaps the biggest event was Apple’s announcement that the new iPhone 6 would support Wi-Fi calling (Voice over Wi-Fi)." I believe that the Google "Hangouts Dialer" app is also helping to develop the market for VoIP via Wi-Fi calls on Android devices. In my experience, the quality of the audio is actually far better than the typical voice call over my mobile carrier's cell network.