With the U.S. cable industry boasting nearly 17 million Wi-Fi hotspots, iPass offering almost 60 million hotspots globally and the total number of Wi-Fi access points expected to surpass 430 million by 2020, it certainly seems that Wi-Fi networks are everywhere.
You know a technology has reached ubiquity when it has invaded salutations and conversation in our professional and personal lives: “Hi, so nice to see you, thanks for having me… what’s your Wi-Fi password?”
However, while Wi-Fi access points abound and mobile consumers increasingly rely on them to support surging mobile data usage, several hurdles to achieving “carrier-grade” user experience persist.
In most cases, it is still entirely too hard to connect to and stay connected to public Wi-Fi networks.
Whether it’s a captive portal issue or a problem related to the certificate authority saved in the network’s profile on a user’s device, the reliability and ease of use that users expect in relation to large scale carrier networks just isn’t there for Wi-Fi yet.
Of course, programs like Passpoint™ championed by the Wi-Fi Alliance have made great strides toward the goal of carrier-grade Wi-Fi, but the reality is that these networks still require proactive management on the part of the service provider to achieve the same levels of service as LTE.
Certainly, in the case of a technology where the vast majority of historical usage has occurred on private networks and “homespots,” Wi-Fi supports the assumption that direct management from a QoE perspective is unnecessary.
The line of reasoning goes: “Most everyone knows how to find and connect to a Wi-Fi network when it is available, so why is active management of user experience on the operator side necessary? Just let the user handle it.”
While this logic is sound on the point that most users do know how to connect to an open Wi-Fi network when it is available, it fails to consider that, in most cases, users will have choices when it comes to Wi-Fi connectivity and they won’t always pick the right network.
Also if the goal is to provide a “carrier-grade” experience, then putting the burden on the user to find and configure Wi-Fi connectivity is counterintuitive.
From a service provider’s perspective, can you ensure that your subscribers are finding and connecting to the hotspots you want them to use?
Or, in an offload scenario, how can you ensure that the network your subscribers are placed on provides high enough QoS to deliver a good user experience?
Bottom line: For Wi-Fi to offer strategic value to your business, it must be managed with the same rigor as a cellular network, and maybe more. Read this opinion piece recently published by RCRWireless for more information.