Is Wi-Fi a good thing for smartphone users? Is it a human rights question, where every one with a phone should be entitled to access Wi-Fi or should we avoid Wi-Fi and resist the mobile operators who are trying to offload us from their networks? Aren’t the operators just looking for a solution that they should really fix themselves?
There’s been a lot of questions and controversy associated with Wi-Fi. Tammy Parker, in her Fierce Wireless article “Wi-Fi offloading: Who controls your handset?” talks about client-centric network management by the operator where the operator becomes involved in managing which networks (cellular or Wi-Fi) customers access. Some might say that this gives the operator too much control “Big Brother” style. On the other hand, in the UK, the government’s broadband plans, has been criticized for excluding underserved communities by focusing on speed rather than giving universal access.
For me, the answer lies in what we all are looking when we pick up our phones, namely high speed broadband access for making calls, checking email, and getting onto the Internet. A connection that’s always on and always there. And maybe that’s the basic human right we are talking about here. The reality is that Wi-Fi can provide a better user experience in terms of bandwidth and indoor coverage (i.e. speed) as well as reduce 3G data usage thus saving money for those of us not on an unlimited 3G data plan.
You’ve also got to consider security. Secure Wi-Fi authentication initiated from the mobile operator is more secure than open access Wi-Fi or putting security into the Wi-Fi operators hands in my opinion. With Hotspot 2.0 and tunneled access, carriers can help the device make intelligent decisions about what services to offload and when. If all devices are trying to offload onto Wi-Fi then Wi-Fi connections may get congested. The Wi-Fi network should alert the device and let the mobile operator network back off Wi-Fi once it’s congested and try again later. In the meantime, we would be back on 3G until it makes sense to switch to Wi-Fi again.
In all of this, something to consider is that we users don’t know which cell site we connect to or that we only connect to 3G and not 2G when we use our smart phones. I certainly don’t want to be bothered by that level of detail and prefer leaving cell site selection to the operator. But, where does cell site selection end and Wi-Fi selection start?
As mobile data usage continues to grow next generation connectivity in the form of LTE will not decelerate Wi-Fi usage. Analyst firm, Informa found that the single most important offload technology for LTE networks would be Wi-Fi at 37 percent of its survey vote compared to femtocells at 11 percent.
The bottom line for me is that accessing high speed Wi-Fi can only be good so, long as it is done securely and efficiently by the operator and lets me get on with the things I want to do such as staying connected to find out do I pick up dinner on my way home this evening.
-Aidan Dillon founded Accuris Networks in 2003 as CEO, and currently serves as CTO.