Part 1: Mobile Operators V Fixed Line Operators – who will win the Wi-Fi Off-load Race? by Toby Makepeace, Technical Director, Netutils
This post contains original thoughts posted by Toby Makepeace, Technical Director, Network (Utilities) Systems Ltd. These views are his own.
In 2011, global mobile handset shipments reached 1.6 billion and tablet shipments reached 66.9 million. According to Juniper Networks’ survey, ‘mobile users worldwide own an average of three Internet-connected devices – from smartphones and tablets to eReaders and portable video game systems. Nearly one in five people (18 percent) own five or more devices. And today, people depend on these devices for everything from financial transactions and business operations to personal connections. ‘
Mobile subscribers expect to consume and access more & more rich media content faster, from any location, at any time, from multiple devices and all this at a competitive cost. This increase in mobile traffic inevitably places enormous demands on bandwidth and increases pressure on service providers to a) deliver this bandwidth seamlessly & cost effectively to users b) maintain and grow ARPU and c) avoid customer churn.
As the digital society boundaries blur and subscriber demands for a seamless always on services accelerates, the demand on the network operators (mobile & fixed ) to respond to this challenge whilst managing costs could be seen as a race that is not winnable. Even with the introduction of LTE around the corner, the demand, availability and expectation placed on the mobile operators to deliver true, seamless, useable on demand bandwidth will diminish if the expected LTE take up again exceeds the capacity of the systems to deliver.
These substantial increases in costs (along with the backhaul requirement to meet the changing digital society needs), is driving mobile operators to consider Wi-Fi off-load/on-load. Wi-Fi offload also opens up opportunities to the fixed line operators by capitalising on and sharing infrastructure costs with mobile operators, the backhaul infrastructure they own can be utilised to deliver and deploy the fast backhaul network the mobile operators require.
In practice the infrastructure deployed to provide Wi-Fi off-load is often a wholesale service offered by either the fixed line operators to the mobile operators or a self-build network with a high operations cost. To my mind the infrastructure solution is likely to be a shared service offering that multi-operators can buy into.
So, in my view the answer to who will win the Wi-Fi Off-load race will be:
- The mobile operators that invest in the infrastructure early to provide efficient authentication to simplify the user experience.
- And the fixed line operators who manage to get the largest footprint on the ground offering true layer 2 connectivity for the mobile operators’ backhaul.