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  • Mark Middleton

Carrier Wi-Fi, Done Right, Is Good For Everyone

“Carrier Wi-Fi gives mobile operators (MNOs) a powerful tool to increase capacity in their networks by leveraging the ubiquity of Wi-Fi in mobile devices. Unlike residential and enterprise offload or Wi-Fi access in public hotspots, carrier Wi-Fi allows mobile operators and other service providers to directly manage and retain control over the Wi-Fi infrastructure, and to share it with roaming partners”, says Monica Paolini in her Wi-Fi TCO 2013 – Carrier-Wi-Fi®-for-mobile-operators paper commissioned by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

This distinction, between residential Wi-Fi or hotspot Wi-Fi and large-scale Wi-Fi of a quality and character sufficient for MNOs to properly leverage, is critically important to understand. A mobile operator that simply gives its subscribers access to a Wi-Fi hotspot network that does not meet the Carrier Wi-Fi threshold may in fact be doing itself and its subscribers a disservice. The user experience may be inconsistent, authentication may vary and the MNO may have no visibility of the quality and performance of the Wi-Fi network.

A Carrier Wi-Fi network needs to meet some minimum criteria of:

  1. A consistent user experience

  2. Fully integrated end-to-end

  3. Network management capability

For mobile network operators and fixed line service providers, Wi-Fi presents a significant value proposition. For mobile operators, Carrier Wi-Fi, when deployed as part of a small cells strategy with 3G and 4G, has (according to Paolini) a comparative TCO over five years of 43% of the cost of 4G small cells. If the mobile operator leverages a third party Carrier Wi-Fi network then the Wi-Fi TCO can be significantly less. Wi-Fi handles density particularly well and is a compelling complement to 3G/4G small cells deployment. It reduces the overall TCO and gives benefits to the end user. Wi-Fi is being positioned as a value added service for subscribers. With a robust, low-cost connection, MNOs can offer unlimited Wi-Fi (but 1GB per day is common) and open the door for OTT services such as video or messaging (many of which can now be offered by the MNO (take Spark’s new Lightbox OTTtv service as an example)).

Carrier Wi-Fi also provides fixed line operators with an opportunity to achieve a mobility component to their offering and retain contact with relevance to subscribers when they are outside of the home. Wi-Fi can be used by fixed line providers to push and extend OTT services and also voice services while leveraging third party Carrier Wi-Fi for connectivity outside the home.

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