I just returned from the well organized and well attended Wi-Fi Now conference in Washington DC. Topics at the three-day conference included enterprise applications, home security, innovations, leadership, carriers, spectrum, LTE-U, the Uberization of the wireless industry and the disruptive role of Wi-Fi. There was less talk about Wi-Fi monetization and greater focus on data analytics and the rapidly changing world of network agility in a more open environment. For example, iPass talked about the inherent value of data related to Wi-Fi usage, particularly Wi-Fi as a proxy for overall customer traffic. The value of that data is such that iPass might even give Wi-Fi access away or sell it for very little, he added, because it can monetize the data instead of the connectivity itself. Here are some of my key takeaways.
Enterprise, Home & Security
Google spoke about the current state of home Wi-Fi routers and indicated that most are unsecure and poorly configured. That assessment is based on research that Google did while exploring the market for its OnHub router, which scans for the best available channels and is capable of reducing interference and intrusion.
Meanwhile, Tessco discussed its experiences with large deployments, including how to deal with both capacity and aesthetics. Microsoft discussed how Wi-Fi can serve to close the “homework gap” in developed countries, as well as help serve the unconnected in developing countries through a series of pilot projects it has with schools and government bodies.
During the second day, some prominent and other less prominent analysts debated whether Wi-Fi is going to dominate the world of wireless networks. Although I agree that the economics tend to be in the favor of Wi-Fi, in my opinion some analysts had a rather simplistic view of network deployments. For example, they underestimated the challenges associated with covering large areas and small, dense ones with only Wi-Fi and the challenge of enabling a decent quality of experience for services as VoWiFi.
MAG consulting, which has a practical view of the world, contributed to a healthy reality check. For example, the argument that Wi-Fi is needed because carriers cannot afford to densify the network (small cells) is not necessarily true of small cells that building owners pay for.
Carriers & Spectrum
Wi-Fi is now an integral part of many MNO and MSO networks, although Passpoint 2.0 is yet to be deployed in scale. Lack of support by devices is growing but still insufficient to accelerate adoption.
TWC and other MSOs continue to be bullish and invest in Wi-Fi. But the reality is that Wi-Fi as a standalone service is hard to implement and also suffers from a very limited choice of devices at the moment (does not support IOs). Republic Wireless shared some of its experiences and lessons learned in a world of very low ARPU, mostly prepaid and with limited devices. Yet Republic is somehow successful because it’s highly focused on what is a niche market at the moment. Republic is also starting to offer channel bonding as a way to both decrease its cellular wholesale costs and improve customer experience, according to David Marken, CEO of Republic: instead of switching customers between Wi-Fi-only and cellular-only when the Wi-Fi signal degrades, channel bonding allows both technologies to be utilized so that the cellular network only is utilized as needed to maintain good voice call quality and drops off as soon as the Wi-Fi signal improves. For more insights into the challenges that Republic and other Wi-Fi First operators face, read this piece.
The Starry story is also an interesting one to follow. It has very cool access points, branded as “stations,” that are beautiful and thus less likely to end up inside a closet or behind the TV. Not being hidden away means they’re literally in a better position to improve coverage and performance. Starry Station’s Ambient Mode enables users to see all their devices at a glance. Each device is represented by an orb: Blue means good, red means trouble. CEO Chet Kanojia told the audience that Starry was built not just as a service provider or hardware, but centered around enabling an in-home Android IoT application platform. Starry will provide a network based on utilizing millimeter wave, massive MIMO phased arrays and 802.11ac, with content filtering and access control for parents and an emphasis on customer service.
No major announcements except for some players deciding to work together. But overall a good show to follow the pulse of the industry.
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