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June 2, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:30am

Networks are about to get messy

Are you ready for the future of connectivity?

By Duncan Macrae

We now live in a connected world, but that ‘connectivity’ is constantly evolving. How will it look tomorrow? Duncan MacRae picked the brains of Evan Kaplan, CEO at iPass – a cloud-based mobility management and Wi-Fi connectivity provider – to find out.

Who will own the networks of tomorrow?

There’s no doubt that cellular networks will continue to be owned by the telcos. However, when it comes to Wi-Fi the answer isn’t as straightforward. Wi-Fi is an organic thing that anyone can deploy.

As a result, we’re starting to see power shifting from spectrum owners and traditional mobile network operators to ‘real estate holders’, such as airports, hotels, malls, retail locations, stadia, airplanes and the like. Most are taking their Wi-Fi networks into their own hands and are largely indifferent to who the network provider is. In addition, platform players are starting to come into this space. They can monetise Wi-Fi networks with advertising and services, and in the process, connect ‘real estate holders’ and business owners with their customers. The recent Google/Starbucks deal and some of the early Wi-Fi deployments by Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook are revealing indicators of this trend.

At the same time there are a number of mobile network operators such as Orange, Zain, Etisalat, Telefonica and Deutsche Telecom that have seen Wi-Fi as an opportunity to complement their traditional voice and data services and increase revenues. When you consider segments such as the business traveller, who needs Wi-Fi for using high bandwidth applications like Skype and Salesforce when they are travelling abroad, the business case for operators becomes quite compelling.

Essentially, the very nature of Wi-Fi means that the only thing we can say with certainty is that ownership and management of the networks of tomorrow will be messy. With few barriers to entry and a number of different business cases for the deployment of public Wi-Fi, competition will be fierce. The winners will be those companies who can offer the user virtual networks on a global scale by creating a simple online experience where users can roam all over the digital world using a single ID and password.

To what extent do you think we will see an emergence of community Wi-Fi, with people making their home hotspots public, and rewarded with no or lower home Internet bills?

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Community Wi-Fi is already emerging. The UK and BT have led the charge with millions of community hotspots. Home hubs, that segment private and public networks on your home network create a massive opportunity for spread of community Wi-Fi. The trend is set to continue as fixed line operators take advantage of their huge footprint of consumers broadband users.
If you agree to share your home network you are then entitled to access the entire footprint of guest networks that your provider has deployed in other peoples’ homes, coffee shops, and shops. Ultimately, we expect these community-based loyalty networks to be a huge driver of public Wi-Fi penetration globally. Operators and cable companies who chose to build out a community-based network of hotspots are making the expenditure to drive loyalty for their brand. They hope people will chose their service to gain "free" access to a huge number of hotspots only available to customers of that particular company. The play as we see it is for customer loyalty through increased value vs lower rates.

When it comes to connectivity, how important do you think Wi-Fi will ultimately become?

Wi-Fi has already emerged as the connectivity method of choice. Our recent survey of over 2,200 business travellers showed that 80% have a "Wi-Fi first" mentality, preferring to use Wi-Fi over mobile data when working outside the office. Of course people will continue to use mobile data connectivity when Wi-Fi isn’t available, but the reality is as soon as someone sits down they turn to Wi-Fi. There is seems to be an unquenchable thirst for business people on the go to access more and more data. Whether it is web conferencing with video, unified communications, large presentations and videos, Wi-Fi provides a better experience. IT managers are particularly concerned about ensuring their implementations around unified communications work when their users are mobile and this simply can’t happen without the speed and bandwidth Wi-Fi provides. With Wi-Fi you can use the same apps you use at work while keeping a good user experience.



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