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January 22, 2010


Alan Little

What you say may well be technically true. But business models and billing will be the killer.

I too thought, maybe five or six years ago, that Wi-Fi's ubiquity in places where business travellers want to be connected - airports, hotels, railway stations, conference centres - would knock a big hole out of the business case for then-still-expensive UMTS data. What actually happened, though, was that UMTS data plans became reasonably priced, and UMTS/HxDPA became fast enough, cheap enough and more or less ubiquitous. Whereas to use Wi-Fi I have to go through irritating billig gateway pages with numerous silly little ISPs at extortionate hourly rates, and the performance gain over HSDPA just ain't worth it. I think in the couple of years since I had an HSDPA- and tethering-capable handset, I have paid for Wi-Fi service exactly once.

The sensible option - for customers as well as for operators, since it could potentially offload a lot of traffic from expensive UMTS networks - would be for operators to bundle Wi-Fi and UMTS connection in a single data offering. But here in Germany, I believe only T-Mobile does. I don't know why other operators (including the one I work for) don't.


Alan, Unfortunately, the slides alone don't convey what that actual presentation included. Sorry, I don't have a recording of the voice track. :(

I agree with your last paragraph. I was making the point that not only should this happen, it will and it is already here in the US.

What I said was Wi-Fi is going to show up as a "free" service in the "freemium" sense, i.e. it's free because it is sponsored by your 3G/4G carrier or your fixed carrier. Wi-Fi infrastructure is much less expensive to deploy, at least in urban environments, and (depending on backhaul arrangements) much higher capacity.

Already in the US we have Cablevision bundling "free" Wi-Fi access for the Internet access subscribers on Long Island and southern Connecticut. To do this, they deployed over 20K outdoor Wi-Fi access points with DOCSIS backhaul over their cable infrastructure. In response, Verizon FiOS has struck a deal with Boingo to provide free access to Boingo's many Wi-Fi access points if you are a Verizon FiOS Internet access subscriber. And this in a market that has only a duopoly.

Of course it's the 3G operators who have capacity problems and need Wi-Fi offload. And, sure enough, AT&T Wireless has a program to make AT&T Wi-Fi hot spots available "free" to anyone who has an AT&T data plan. Note there are over 20K AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots already deployed.

Finally, many many locations are going to "free," i.e. sponsored, access. Even Logan airport here in Boston is opening up the formerly expensive Wi-Fi service and making it free.

I don't like Wi-Fi billing screens or the ludicrous charges that I encounter in airports and hotels. I think we're in agreement, operators should bundle Wi-Fi access and indeed, that just what is happening here in the US.

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