There isn’t an area of our lives that hasn’t been affected by technology. With the increasing use of smart phones and laptops, the demand for WiFi has skyrocketed. With the increasing usage of WiFi, there has been a massive shift in the demands for the infrastructure behind WiFi services and products due to the growing need around mobile devices.
The amount of data being used is incredible as pointed out by John Donovan, in a press release for AT&T in regards to data usage at Apple’s 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. “Here’s a story you haven’t heard yet: We saw a record-setting volume of data sent and received at WWDC. Nearly 300 gigabites of data moved across our network in just the first two days of the conference… Compare those stats with network use at football’s big game last February… 215 GB used by crowds in the stands in Indy. Here’s what’s remarkable. There were 68,000+ fans at the big game, while WWDC crowds were estimated around 6,000.”
Mobile offloading data to WiFi
Mobile companies are now relying more on their Wi-Fi networks to handle the massive increase in data traffic with Marguerite Reardon of CNET pointing out that, “AT&T is relying more and more on its Wi-Fi networks to help off-load data traffic, which should ultimately lead to better network performance for its wireless customers. This week the carrier said it has seen Wi-Fi usage on these networks triple in the last year.”
James Trew of Engadget points out that as demand grows for WiFi access, programs like Passpoint through the Wi-Fi Alliance are emerging, “which promises to let phones and mobile devices automatically discover and connect to compatible networks. The specification used is the result of cooperation between service providers and equipment manufacturers, with the aim of creating an industry-wide solution for shared WiFi access and roaming agreements.”
It’s undeniable that WiFi is becoming an integral part of our everyday lives. Hotels, airports, coffee shops and universities are only a few of the locations where WiFi is now expected to be, and to be accessible. As the market grows, there will need to be many adjustments and upgrades made by both users and companies, both mobile operators and manufacturers. To better be integrated into the market those who control the WiFi access need to constantly improve their product. What five things can the providers of WiFi do to make the user experience better?
1. Better Infrastructure: Coverage
The infrastructure demands that our addiction to wireless mobile devices has forced mobile companies to take a look at their services and their ability to provide such services and caused action. The AT&T/T-Mobile merger was largely in part to the extensive infrastructure that T-Mobile has invested in. While the US Government ensured that the merger could not occur, Randall Stephenson AT&Ts CEO said that, “The AT&T and T-Mobile USA combination would have offered an interim solution to this spectrum shortage. In the absence of such steps, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled.” For the mobile companies to find continued success they need to get more spectrum allotments to better provide coverage and access, without the adding of capacity problems such as slow, or non-existent, service which can drive customers away.
The availability of coverage also needs to be expanded to keep up with the demand for service. The WiFi Alliance is an attempt to better give coverage, with the development of an “operator-grade network,” which will “deliver the true mobile broadband experience that users want,” which mobile companies currently are not capable of providing. AT&T reports that there are about 37 connections to WiFi made every second on their network, with more than 100 million connections made each and every month, and that number only increases as more people join the mobile device revolution. Airports, Starbucks, McDonalds, and cities such as Palo Alto and Chicago have joined the WiFi revolution, having teamed with AT&T to offer “hot zones” to AT&T customers.
2. Better Infrastructure: Connection
WiFi connections need to be quicker, easier, and more reliable. AT&T has worked to increase its reach of connection, creating “hot zones” in cities, coffee shops, airports, and arenas across the country. Comcast’s Xfinity WiFi Hotspots are now available in the Northeastern Corridor from Washington DC north to New York City. The infrastructure needs to be better updated to ensure that all customers who try to connect to a WiFi are capable.
Products that offer WiFi connectivity also need to be built to ensure that they can quickly and easily connect. Dropped signals, and devices that are unable to properly connect at the fastest speeds make it difficult for users to enjoy, and make upgrading the infrastructure, which is an extremely costly proposition, a futile exercise.
3. Better Infrastructure: Speed
As more and more users take advantage of WiFi connectivity networks are being dragged down forcing everyone to experience slower speeds and longer downloads. There is a new WiFi protocol: 802.11ac that “will increase data speeds by as much as three times over the most recent standard to 1.3 gigabytes per second. it is also six times more power-efficient and will provide faster and more reliable WiFi coverage throughout the home.”
Broadcom, a global innovator and leader in semiconductor solutions, has developed the 5G WiFi, which operates on the 802.11a devices which is the newest development following the standard 802.11a/b/g/n networks which don’t allow optimum performance any longer and can result in choppy videos and slower load times.
4. Competitive Products
There are a small handful of products that have been designated as WiFI Certified Passpoint, including: BelAir 20E; Broadcom Dualband 11nWiFi and Dual Band 802.11n Access Point; Cisco CT 2500 Series WLAN Controller; Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230; and Qualcomm Atheros Dual-Band XSPAN 3-Stream 802.11n Access Point. When using devices that have any of this hardware, and you’re in a Passpoint location then the user is able to quickly connect to WiFi without having to reenter a username or password and manually connect.
The products available that connect to WiFi are all quite similar, the iPhones are now available of every network, with Samsung, HTC and Nokia releasing products on each network as well. There are no longer devices that put one carrier over another which means that the products that are available need to be differentiated with their ability to utilize the network which they are tied to. When the mobile carriers are better able to compete with products that connect to WiFI more effectively and reliably.
5. Competitive Pricing
While there has been a significant shift towards free WiFI access with airports, Starbucks, McDonalds, and other establishments offering free access to customers there has been a strong movement towards pay-for access through mobile carrier hot spots. The price points for this service is still pretty high, leaving many who might be interested in the service priced out. Clear offers the service for $35 per month, to add it to an existing Verizon or AT&T wireless plan it is $20 per month, plus the cost of the equipment, and data plans required for the mobile phone.