Todd: Yes. Cellular/Wi-Fi integration describes two things. We did a survey with a research during the last quarter, Senza Fili Consulting. One of the questions we asked the operators – there were 81 operator representatives that were on the survey – was how they viewed Wi-Fi. And it was kind of a broad question around “Do you see it as a stop gap or a near-term solution? Do you see it as a strategic near-term and/or do you see it as a long-term strategic solution?” Out of those options about 70 percent said it was strategic and near term or strategic and not just near term but also the long-term part of their plan.
That’s a good harbinger for the view of evolving from where we are today, which is sort of just offloading and also just kind of user-initiated or user-driven in a lot of ways. So, as a user we’re deciding to move to Wi-Fi and the operators tend to be happy about it because it’s offloading their network. I agree with what Allan was saying, that these different use cases will evolve over time based on what the operator’s own network assets looks like – their profile, the subscriber base and just the type of operator they are. Having the intelligence to actually manage how Wi-Fi is used versus really just being happy that people opted to choose to use Wi-Fi where we see things evolving over time.
Wi-Fi is a good solution for the capacity challenges right now but at the same time the operator is really losing customers when they move to Wi-Fi, not having any sort of intervention or interaction or ability to provide any quality of service or visibility into their experience. Operators want to see the integration with Wi-Fi get to that point, especially as more and more people are going to them for their key or most-loved electronics. You’re buying your iPad from Verizon and AT&T; you’re not buying them from Best Buy.
But really, it’s operators such as Verizon and AT&T that now deliver that network access. Taking advantage of managing how Wi-Fi and cellular work together is the future for them. We have some way to go before that’s actually going to be realized, but it’s certainly a key area for innovation at the technology level and a demand and drive from the operators. So, it will happen.
Alex: Thank you, Todd. I wanted to discuss taking advantage of management, but from a different angle. There is a term that gets used more and more often these days and the term is “carrier Wi-Fi.” It’s presented as something that is beyond what Wi-Fi offers today, so I wanted to ask both of you what the term “carrier Wi-Fi” actually means to you, and what do you think are the gaps between Wi-Fi today and this carrier Wi-Fi concept?
Todd: I think it comes back to that managed network situation. I can give you a real example. I have Wi-Fi at home and that’s my own network that I manage. I choose what devices get on that network and when I put my devices on and so on. And that’s completely outside the realm of carrier managed or even an area where I would want a carrier to intervene. The other places I tend to use Wi-Fi other than at work – which again, is totally managed by the enterprise there – is when I’m on WLAN; maybe at an airport.
Generally, an operator provides these services. You might see a T-Mobile or BT or another Wi-Fi provider. When I use that service I actively choose to use that service. I log in, I provide my credentials through some sort of a portal and, frankly, the services vary quite dramatically as to whether I can receive a reasonable quality of service and good connectivity. Being able to run my VPN on a Wi-Fi – all those types of things – can be pretty hit-or-miss depending on how crowded the airport is and how well, how significantly deployed the Wi-Fi access is in that location.
My view at least is that when we’re saying “carrier Wi-Fi”, we’re going to have to give the consumer a better quality of experience, a customizable experience. For example, the user may be able to choose to make transitioning from cellular to Wi-Fi seamless or not make it seamless, maybe making the configuration location specific or an easy on/off on the phone, because I know some consumers would not want to necessarily give that much control to the operator. Regardless, it’s important to have that option of knowing that when I’m in the airport, if I have a better signal on the Wi-Fi network then I will be on the Wi-Fi network and if I have better coverage from 3G or LTE then I will be on the cellular network, and not necessarily have to fumble around with logging into a service or guessing randomly which one will work better.
In my experience it’s often, but not always, true that the better quality experience is on a 3G or an LTE network. I often tend to switch – not use Wi-Fi in an airport, and use my 3G MiFi solution from AT&T because I get more reliability. It may be a little slower but I don’t get dropped and it works pretty well for me. So that’s kind of my vision for carrier Wi-Fi; you are getting a carrier service packaged with your cellular bill and higher quality service than with just normal Wi-Fi access.
Allan: I would say service providers are looking at Wi-Fi, not just as an opportunity, but also as a threat. As Todd mentioned, it’s a concern that people will put their traffic on Wi-Fi network or in fact, are already putting their traffic on Wi-Fi network. They purchase a smart phone or tablet device now without a data plan because they intend to connect via free Wi-Fi. So, is Wi-Fi an opportunity or is it a threat? It’s both and I think service providers are really focused on making an opportunity so it’s not just a load balancer but “How do I build this into my service offers? How do I build it into my plans? How do I differentiate and what’s my market strategy? And then how do I also compete with Wi-Fi and exploit third-party Wi-Fi networks.”
So, “carrier Wi-Fi” is a means to differentiate between other free and paid Wi-Fi networks that are out there, and I think everybody would agree that the performance is inconsistent. The experience with typical Wi-Fi access is often unpredictable, whereas the experience with “carrier Wi-Fi” needs to be good to develop a perception that carrier Wi-Fi provides quality and hence value. Furthermore, carrier Wi-Fi is integrated into my wireless service. So, my 3G wireless service has excellent coverage, has roaming capability and now has seamless Wi-Fi access as well. The authentication process is not going to be different or unreliable; with carrier Wi-Fi it’s going to be seamless. And also the overall expectation of user experience is higher with a carrier Wi-Fi type of service. So, that’s essentially what the terminology means to service providers: turning Wi-Fi into an opportunity for wireless operators.
Alex: Okay, thank you Allan. The theme I heard in both answers is the need for management of Wi-Fi; that this is the central theme governing what carrier Wi-Fi is going to be, and that the goal is to position it as an integral part of what the operator delivers -- perhaps with some amount of branding associated with it – but deliver the kind of quality of experience that a user would expect. This is something that InterDigital completely agrees with. And of course one of the technologies that I think is going to be key in delivering this is going to be policy technology, and in that space there’s a certain amount of uncertainty.