By Natraj Akella
2016 resonated as the year of Wi-Fi domination especially in the mobile conversation space and globally witnessed a remarkable surge in the number of Wi-Fi hotspots. Now, stepping into 2017 with a gush in smartphone penetration, a study by iPass and Maravedis Rethink estimates that the number of public hotspots will continue to increase almost 8-fold over the next couple of years and by 2018 commercial Wi-Fi hotspots across the globe will cross the 300 million mark. Hence, there will be a Wi-Fi hotspot for every 20 people which is a vast increase from today’s one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 people. Also, by 2020 it is predicted that 24 billion devices will be connected to the internet and majority will use some form of wireless for access.
RecentiPass Mobile Professional Report 2016 analyzes some of the biggest connectivity trends affecting mobile professionals in the US and Europe. The report highlights the fact that today’s mobile professional is heavily reliant on Wi-Fi and is increasingly choosing Wi-Fi over other connectivity methods. Furthermore, many professionals are making their travel choices based on the Wi-Fi experience. Internet connectivity has become an essential part of our daily lives, to such an extent that Wi-Fi has surpassed many other human luxuries and necessities in importance. Forty percent of respondents said that Wi-Fi is more important to them than sex, chocolate or alcohol.
The number of wireless internet users in India are likely to cross 790 million by 2020 with more than 60 percent of users accessing the internet through their mobile phones. As per the Ericsson Mobility Report this year, over 85 percent of data traffic generated by the use of smart phone video apps goes over Wi-Fi. The study notes that although cellular data usage on smart phones is growing, Wi-Fi data growth is dramatically outpacing it. The Indian Wi-Fi market meanwhile, is positioned to grow 7 times faster than the global Wi-Fi market. Also, during the same period looking at the growth of Wi-Fi in evolved markets, the following trends are likely to be seen in India in the Wi-Fi space:
Wi-Fi calling: Call drops have long since plagued the Indian consumer and Telco’s alike. But now more and more consumers are using Wi-Fi to connect their mobile phone seamlessly to Wi-Fi networks where operator’s signal is weak, ensuring the conversation is completed. That includes Wi-Fi connection at home or public hotspot like Connaught Place, Starbucks. Wi-Fi calling is still in its infancy in India but operators such as Tata Teleservices are trying to be the first of many to offer it as an option. Wi-Fi calling is taking off with more commercial launches and new devices with Wi-Fi calling, operators can extend their voice service indoors so consumers can make calls in their homes over their own Wi-Fi access points, using any Internet Service Provider (ISP). Wi-Fi will soon become an important part of indoor mobile coverage.
Wi-First:Wi-Fi First refers to mobile devices and services that use Wi-Fi as the primary network and cellular networks only to fill the gaps. This type of solution has tremendous benefit to consumers and is opening doors for entirely new business models. It has the potential to change the industry, putting Wi-Fi at the forefront of mobile communications. A Wi-Fi First smartphone connects to Wi-Fi wherever and whenever it is available for voice, messaging, and data services. It only accesses mobile networks when Wi-Fi is not available. At the same time Wi-Fi operators, will thus have an opportunity to own the customer relationship and win the battle for consumer attention, while ultimately creating new revenue streams.
Wi-Fi Roaming: Wi-Fi roaming on a grand scale is the order of the day as a rising percentage of wireless data travels over the unlicensed-band technology, and as a wide range of service providers put Wi-Fi at the heart of their networks. Over the next couple of years, we envision a nationwide roaming agreement that will provide seamless access to hundreds and thousands of hotspots and homespots. However, considering that public Wi-Fi in India is currently very limited in its reach and quality and is only available point-to-point in very selected areas, we as operators would mainly focus on creating a nationwide network of cable co-deployed hotspots.
IOT and Big data analytics: The huge amounts of data which will be generated by the billions of connected people and objects can be harnessed to support entirely new service and revenue streams in marketing, advertising, content, commerce and others, enabled by the cloud and artificial intelligence.
Converged Services: Some new or enhanced services directly rely on the converged licensed/unlicensed and wired/wireline networks, in particular the rise of multiplay offerings for consumers, combining broadband,voice and video over multiple connections and screens.
Emergence of Digital Villages: The prolific smartphone penetration, in addition to improving networks, is helping the data surge in the entire country, especially the rural areas. Though, right now the focus of public Wi-Fi remains on the urban cities, rural is the next frontier for us. The Indian market today is flooded with affordable smart devices by both domestic and tier one device manufacturers – this will soon open-up the demand for public Wi-Fi in the hinterlands as well. Therefore, we see Public Wi-Fi systems playing a very pivotal role in Government’s ambitious “Digital India mission” as well. By the year 2019, the ‘Digital India’ program of the Government of India (GOI), envisages that 250,000 Indian villages will enjoy broadband connectivity, and universal phone connectivity.
Splurge in Voice and Video: In the next 12 months or so, the number of people using Wi-Fi to make calls and send video will continue to increase. Mobile carriers have already significantly increased their Wi-Fi footprint, and the most advanced Wi-Fi enabled phones now offer seamless in-call switching between 4G and Wi-Fi networks.
Sync. Connect. Repeat: Storage synchronization with popular cloud-based applications such as Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud will increase dramatically during 2017, as will the amount of Wi-Fi-enabled IoT traffic. Even basic home and office devices such as printers, which used to rely almost exclusively on wired connections, will make the move to wireless.
Natraj Akella is Vice President – Wi-Fi at Tata Teleservices Limited.