WiFi Hotspots Evolving to Carrier Grade, but Hurdles Remain

The Amdocs survey indicated almost all operators (85 percent) plan to invest in carrier-grade WiFi by 2016.

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Carrier-grade WiFi hotspots will grow from 14 percent today to 72 percent of overall WiFi hotspots by 2018, according to a report from customer experience solutions specialist Amdocs.

The study, which explores the transition from best-effort to carrier-grade WiFi networks among multiple service operators (MSOs) and mobile network operators (MNOs), revealed that by the end of 2016, 61 percent of MSO's WiFi hotspots, and 70 percent of MNOs', will be sourced from third parties to take advantage of shared cost savings and accelerated deployment, up from 45 percent today.

However, about two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents placed the lack of strong network planning and management tools in their top three risk factors for investing in carrier-grade WiFi, with 65 percent stating that their existing tools will not extend well to WiFi without additional investment.

As part of their WiFi network strategy to enable WiFi coverage on the move, by 2016, 77 percent of service providers plan to use homespots--where the user agrees to leave the hotspot open for use by passers-by--growing from 30 percent today.

In addition, the survey indicated almost all operators (85 percent) plan to invest in carrier-grade WiFi by 2016.For comparison, in 2013, although the largest amounts of data carried over public Wi-Fi were still monetized by access fees (individual or enterprise) and advertising, the fastest growing source of data was offload from mobile networks.

"Security is very important for MSOs competing against the incumbent cellular wireless providers," Phil Bull, solutions marketing manager for Amdocs, told eWEEK. "WiFi networks have to be more robust and secure from the current ‘best effort’ networks today. This can be achieved with standards such as Hotspot 2.0."

Bull explained the improvements to the WiFi standards, such as the gigabit 802.11ac upgrade and HotSpot 2.0, are important to deliver the new levels of speed, security and reliability, but not enough on their own to fulfil the potential of WiFi to support cellular-grade quality of experience, and the new monetization opportunities that go with that.

The report found MSOs see carrier-grade WiFi providing better positioning in mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) deals, supporting quad-play offerings and wireless services, while MNOs plan to use carrier-grade Wi-Fi broaden their networks and offload radio access network (RAN) traffic.

Bull noted some of the common stumbling blocks businesses face when deploying WiFi networks—for outdoor deployments, specifically, are carrier grade access points--the challenges of which are similar to small cells.Other issues can include site location and acquisition and power availability, he said.

According to the research, service providers realize that best-effort WiFi is becoming less profitable and that new revenue streams can only be built once a higher quality of experience (QoE) is assured.

"MSOs will lead the carrier grade trend and we expect to see a significant growth in carrier grade WiFi as MSOs build out their wireless offerings over the next few years as their prime wireless strategy," Bull explained.