The WiFi Global Congress, being held this week in San Francisco, has been the staging-post for WiFi announcements and statistical steps forward, all designed to show that the technology is slowly but surely worming its way into the increasingly heterogeneous telco network. I. D. Scales reports.
New standards are being introduced and there is fast-growing WiFi usage, especially on smartphones - it's all ratcheting up as predicted.
The question is - under what terms? Is it possible to detect smidgeon of unease around even the most whooping announcements about how quickly and transparently telcos plan to integrate WiFi into their access networks?
WiFi advocates keep talking up the importance of open global standards if the WiFi effort is to gel properly. Example: "It
is essential that operators continue to work together and employ open standards thereby creating a truly global Wi-Fi network" the press release has JR Wilson, Chairman of the Wireless Broadbanad Alliance (WBA), saying. Meanwhile, telcos talk of transparent handoff between networks and coping with the data explosion.
There is no necessary conflict here but it is possible to see issues emerging as the telcos attempt to control wifi usage in a way that supports their business models and perhaps start introducing proprietary adaptations to the standards to make sure they do - especially if handoff between cell and wifi is made close to transparent.
Those issues may emerge in due course, but meanwhile the WiFi pace (which has gone slightly quiet since a flurry of announcements early this year) is still breathlessly going forward.
Most important - WiFi hotspot usage (without new standards) is still ramping up.
It used to be the laptop warrior pitching up at the coffee shop for a caffeine boost and a quick email session that was driving those 'free' (ads included) wifi facilities but now it's smartphones. WBA research shows that they've overtaken laptops and, of course, their usage is expected to rocket as operators deploy the so-called 'next generation' hotspot protocols which automatically log users in as they approach (there's that transparency again).
As previously reported we are now in the inevitable trial phase for next generation hotspots and the WBA expects a substantial uptick in deployment by the end of 2013. It claims its survey of mobile telcos shows that a full 20 per cent of them are planning to deploy by then.
Smartphones (40 per cent) are the leading cause of hotspot connections now, with laptops on 39 per cent and tablets on 17 per cent. And the survey has been asking telcos about their attitude to public Wi-Fi . At first wary, now 43 per cent of the respondents say they're ‘more bullish’ than they were.
Wi-Fi hotspot growth will be focused in four types of location, says the report: wide-area outdoor hotzones (e.g. parks); transport hubs (e.g. airports); and social venues (e.g. bars and cafes), with local-area outdoor hotzones (e.g. popular tourist attractions) expected to see the bulk of traffic. These deployments will be in parallel with 4G LTE deployments with over 70 per cent of survey respondents planning to continue investing in both technologies.
Big carriers are showing big growth. China Mobile saw a 102 per cent increase in Wi-Fi traffic in H1 2012 and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo plans to grow its 14,200 hotspots by as much as 1.5 times before the end of the year.
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