WiFi Roaming and Monetization Panels at the WBA Congress


Last week I had the pleasure to attend the WBA Wireless Global Congress in London where I had the privilege to moderate a couple of interesting panels. In my opinion, the WBA is the best event covering the convergence of licensed and unlicensed technologies including Wi-Fi, away from  the schizophrenic discourse of other Wi-Fi shows.

1st Panel: What’s next in Wi-Fi monetization

  • Kishore Raja, VP of R&D at Boingo
  • Paul Mikkelsen, Aptilo
  • Enrique Farfán, COO, Director of Wi-Fi Solutions, FON
  • Andrea Calcagno, CEO & Co-Founder, Cloud4Wi

As Wi-Fi becomes part of ‘densification’ with other networks or alone.,new business models are slowly emerging to monetize Wi-Fi. These will go far beyond the current situation, in which mobile operators offload data to Wi-Fi, or fixed-line operators access licensed spectrum through MVNO deals.

Panelists agreed that monetizing Wi-Fi requires a broad approach and mix of value added service to work. You can’t monetize Wi-Fi with advertising alone, that model was not successful according to Cloud4Wi who provides guestWi-Fi solutions to brands and venues. Aptilo which historically provided Wi-Fi offload solutions broadened its portfolio to include venue manager and Wi-Fi calling precisely to respond to these market needs. Paul Mikkelsen  from Aptilo, shared the example of a Scandinavian operator who is using the inclusion of unlimited Wi-Fi plans to motivate customers to move fo higher cellular data plans which include unlimited Wi-Fi, thus increasing the ARPU for the MNO.

Managed Wi-Fi services is a growing market that FON is clearly betting on. Businesses of all sizes are becoming increasingly relying on all wireless office spaces and they are ready to pay for someone else to deal with making sure the networks are running optimally. With the emergence of network performance analytics in Wi-Fi, machine learning and AI are enabling more visibility into each part of the network for better troubleshooting and self-healing capabilities.

One important question discussed in the panel is the value and ownership of big data. As pointed out in a recent article by the Economist, the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data, the data economy demands a new approach to antitrust rules.

In the case of analytics and big data, the question of who owns the data is essential and the answer not always straightforward. Andrea Calcagno CEO of Cloud4Wi who deals with brands suggests the data is a property of the brand or the venue. But in the case where say an operator sells managed WI-Fi services to a venue through a neutral host, the answer may be less obvious. Add to that the whole dimension of IoT to  the mix and the question becomes even more complex as to who owns the bits of data coming out of a fridge or a sensor? As pointed out by FON, how to use said data is key as SMBs do not always have the resources to extract proper value from such a volume of data.

2nd Panel: Wi-Fi Roaming: delivering business benefits in retail offerings

  • Suzanne Hellwig, AVP Global Alliances, AT&T
  • Dhiraj Wazir, Head of Interconnect & International Enablers, BT (former EE)
  • Carleen Chou, Head of Business Development and Sales, FON
  • Dr. Angelos Mavridis, Senior Manager WiFi-Roaming, Deutsche Telekom
  • Steve Dyett, Head of Global Wi-Fi Solutions at BT Global Services

This was another great panel. Suzanne from AT&T kicked off by sharing some trends and the positive results of their WiFi roaming offering in helping increase cellular data usage. AT&T has been one of the most enthusiast adopters of Wi-Fi roaming and has garnered great results from the initiative.  AT&T customers with International Packages, in addition to an allowance of cellular minutes, messages and megabytes, enjoy seamless access to over 16 million hotspots in 50+ countries. These include close to a million venue-based hotspots (airports, hotels, cafés, etc) and over 15 million “homespots”. The company also includes in the Wi-Fi finder portion of the AT&T Global Wi-Fi app the location of 1.5 million public hotspots. They have 60+ roaming agreements. Most of the roaming agreements are international but some are domestics too.

The results have been very positive according to AT&T which would not share precise numbers but indicate soaring usage in terms of number of roamers, roaming data consumption (including cellular) and retention rate. As long as the cost of Wi-Fi wholesale remains lower than cellular data (25-50% lower), the model works and AT&T plans to expand both their footprint as well as the adoption of Passpoint profiles into client devices especially on iOS. AT&T has their own application needed to discover and authenticate into partner Wi-Fi networks.

According to Samuel Keurmeur at Orange (who responded to my questions offline as he missed the panel) new billing models are under discussions to answer the needs of the roaming evolution, above all with the huge data growth while travelling (including Wi-Fi services).

MNOs are no longer interested in paying voice service per minute or data per Mb he added, because:

  • VoLTE will soon replace traditional voice and will be included in data packages
  • MNOs require better support to offer more attractive roaming packages including unlimited data offers with more flexible retail offers.

Today, GSMA, DCH/FCH, MNOs and roaming providers are discussing these new business models which allow:

  • Better aggregation of data sessions
  • Data charging model per usage (per day and par IMSI) possibly starting in 2018

One essential question for me to ask my panelists was about the most important obstacles to establishing more Wi-Fi roaming agreements? Are they technical? Business? Legal?

Establishing a roaming agreement is a long and tedious process still. The Wi-Fi Roaming Revenue is not achieving its full potential according to various of the panelists. The reasons are many. Identifying a potential partner who is not an active member of the WBA can be tricky in the first place. Then ensuring the said potential partner abides by the requirements needed to establish a successful bilateral agreement requires also a great of work and time. There are the technical, business, financial then legal steps that must be overcome which requires a good dose of motivation on the part of both parties which in turn requires a clear view of the potential return on investment of such an endeavor. Syniverse (with the help of bandwidth X) is working on facilitating that marketplace exchange.

The larger adoption of Passpoint 2.0 technology is seen as a much needed development for the adoption of Wi-Fi roaming with the following benefits:

  • Same quality, same security, home routed traffic and seamless authentication process
  • Extension of the roaming coverage (ie indoor coverage), cheaper roaming charges onto Wi-Fi and good opportunity to attract more consumers and reduce silent roaming.

BT and DT have been very active in participating to the WRIX standard and other core activities of the WBA. They both agreed that WRIX achieved its objectives. WRIX (Wireless Roaming Intermediary Exchange) is a set of service specifications published by the Wireless Broadband Alliance to provide a framework for Wi-Fi interconnection, data clearing, financial clearing and the exchange of Wi-Fi location information between operators. The purpose of the service specification is to standardize both technical and business processes between Wi-Fi Roaming Partners. However, Angelos at DT was somehow skeptical about Wi-Fi roaming opportunities within the EU because EU citizens travelling to any other EU Member States will have no roaming charges while making phone calls, texting or surfing online with their mobile phone or device using their home country’s SIM card starting June 2017. He said trans-continental roaming looks make more sense in his opinion. Further the question of non-SIM devices also constitutes a challenge for international carriers. For more on Wi-FI roaming, read my previous blog Wi-Fi Roaming – from “old school” to New Opportunities.

The next WBA congress will take place in New York November 13-16, 2017.


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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).


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