A new survey by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) claims there has been an increasing shift in attitude towards WiFi technology, with more than half of respondents, including operators as well as equipment vendors, saying they are more confident about investing in the technology than they were a year ago.
The figure – 57 per cent – is the highest seen in the WBA annual survey, which is made up mainly of operators as well as vendors, consultants and integrators (210 respondents in total). Last year, the figure was 52 per cent and the year before that 43 per cent.
This may come as a surprise, given the increasing popularity of 4G mobile networks, which offer users more bandwidth and faster speeds than 3G.
Commenting on this, Caroline Gabriel, research director at Maravedis-Rethink Technology Research, who conducted the report on behalf of the WBA, told Mobile World Live that “no matter how much bandwidth users get, they always want more. Neither WiFi not LTE alone can suffice as both have limited spectrum and come with their own pros and cons.”
Although some operators initially feel that there is less need to support WiFi hotspots, Gabriel said this changes as more subscribers get on board, there is more pressure to deliver high speeds and companies don’t want to overload networks.
Gabriel also believes that operators want to limit how much investment they make in 4G infrastructure and are keen for their customers to use WiFi so they can increase the total pool of capacity that they have to offer.
Next Generation Hotspots (NGH), which offer a more seamless way of connecting to a public WiFi network by bypassing the signing-in process, “give users the advantage of moving back and forth between LTE and WiFi,” added Gabriel.
Another limiting factor of 4G is that users need to have a specific subscription and device, while WiFi is often cheaper and particularly useful for people with tablets without a mobile connection.
When it comes to NGH, the survey found that operators are now thinking of how they can make money from them, whereas last year the focus was on sorting out technical issues.
The survey also revealed that 70 per cent of respondents felt a key motivation for deploying carrier-grade WiFi in their systems would be to improve customer experience and increase subscriber retention. Forty one per cent cited this as the single most important driver to invest in NGH, ahead of offload.
“Operators need to demonstrate to increasingly tech savvy users that they can offer better quality and service,” Gabriel explained as the reason for this trend.
The market is so competitive, particularly in developed regions, that operators cannot compete on the basis of just price or even speed, she said. If they introduce a new technology, their rivals are sure to catch up. What customers really value is reliable service.