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Increasing mobile bandwidth: How Wi-Fi can help

Telecom Writer

Mobile data consumption is skyrocketing across the globe. According to the June 2015 Ericsson Mobility Report, smartphone subscriptions will more than double by 2020, and 80 percent of all mobile data traffic will come from phones. Streaming services will spur video traffic to grow 55 percent annually by then. Indeed, increasing mobile bandwidth is a top priority for wireless carriers.

Carriers are turning to Wi-Fi options to help manage this demand. In a recent interview with Mobile World Live at CommunicAsia2015, Ruckus Wireless' Principal Consultant for Carrier Wi-Fi in Asia Pacific Steven Chung argued that while mobile operators want to off-load data traffic to Wi-Fi and lower capital expenditures, the main drivers of off-loading strategies should be customer retention and service continuity.

Wi-Fi to the rescue

Wi-Fi presents a huge opportunity to mobile carriers. In a new study, Juniper Research forecasts that Wi-Fi networks will carry nearly 60 percent of smartphone and tablet data traffic by 2019. In raw numbers, that's more than 115,000 petabytes (PB) of data, a nearly fourfold jump of this year's more than 30,000 PB usage.

For mobile carriers, a key takeaway from the report is that data off-loading from mobile networks to Wi-Fi offers many benefits, including the ability to address patchy coverage problems, boost usage of 3G and 4G services and create new services such as voice-over-Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) calling.

Of course, carriers are already implementing VoWiFi as part of their off-loading efforts. Among the big four U.S. wireless providers, T-Mobile and Sprint have taken the lead by offering Wi-Fi calling to a select group of iOS and Android phones, and T-Mobile supports a few Windows Phone handsets, too. AT&T and Verizon have announced plans for VoWiFi, with the former slated to provide service later this year.

Analytics can provide mobile carriers with valuable consumer data and a platform for delivering location-based services. For instance, analytics providers offer mobile client apps that allow carriers to measure subscribers' Wi-Fi data usage. Because Wi-Fi data doesn't travel over a carrier's network, it can't be measured without an analytics app running on a client device.

Wi-Fi means monetization

Off-loading is just the tip of Wi-Fi's potential. The growth of municipal Wi-Fi will enable a new era of big data analytics that are applicable to a variety of urban uses. For mobile carriers, this translates into new services and revenue opportunities.

One recent example occurred at last year's Vivid Sydney, an annual festival of "innovation, creativity and community" in Australia's most populous city. The Heart of the City exhibit at the event's Light Walk, an array of light art sculpture, installations and projections, collected data from attendees' Wi-Fi-enabled devices, primarily smartphones. Using analytics software crunching real-time information, Heart of the City revealed fascinating patterns that would be difficult, if not impossible, to collect via traditional methods: the number of visitors and how long they stayed; their pace and the direction they traveled in; and other details varying by time of day. The exhibit visualized these patterns, displaying them on a light sculpture.

Heart of the City's mission may have been more art than science, but it succeeded in showing the potential of big data analytics and Wi-Fi in urban planning. "Wi-Fi connectivity is the DNA for building a smart city, as it allows many different sensors to connect, collect and be analyzed for the objective of building a sustainable city," Ruckus Wireless' Chung told Mobile World Live.

Wi-Fi alternatives

Wi-Fi will continue to play a major role in the mobile environment, even if mobile carriers widely implement LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U), which enables LTE to operate in an unlicensed spectrum. According to a December 2014 white paper by Signals Research Group and sponsored by LTE-U backer Qualcomm, LTE-U will not impact or degrade the performance of existing Wi-Fi systems.

By increasing mobile bandwidth via Wi-Fi utilization and other efforts, mobile carriers will deftly manage the big data juggernaut.

For information on key factors that influence customer loyalty particularly in the area of network and service quality, read Driving Customer Loyalty Through Network Service Quality.