Everybody using a smartphone knows that as more and more people are added to the networks, and more and more applications come online, each with increasing bandwidth demands, the performance they individually see from the mobile network drops. My own personal experience here in the SF bay area has shown that LTE has dropped from a consistent 25-30 Mbps when I first got an LTE handset, to around 15 Mbps today. The spectrum available for these networks is limited, so adding more people into a given geographic area means less for each user.
The industry is talking about a number of solutions to this issue, and it is very likely that there will not be just one solution, but rather that a combination of different approaches will be needed. The most commonly talked about options are:
- Additional Spectrum – There is continued pressure on governments to make more RF spectrum available for mobile operators to license.
- Small Cells – The addition of capacity within the area of a macro cell to either improve performance at the edges of the macro coverage, or to ease pain points, such as in train stations or shopping malls where the user density increases.
- Carrier Wi-Fi – Addition of a Wi-Fi network for use by only the carrier’s customers for data offload, and in some cases, for voice.
All of those are great, but Devicescape sees a fourth approach that can be added to that list, and takes advantage of a revolution that is already happening: the explosion in amenity Wi-Fi.
What is amenity Wi-Fi? Put simply, it is a Wi-Fi network that is made available by an establishment for use by its customers. The establishments can be large chains such as Starbucks, The Home Depot or Macy’s, or they can be single location local cafes, bars, launderettes or salons. What’s most interesting about amenity Wi-Fi is that it tends to be installed where people want to (or need to) spend time. The places where they are more likely to consume high bandwidth content.
Take the launderette. In the past, you might see people reading a book or magazine while waiting for their laundry to complete. Today, most people will be sitting there with mobile devices; most likely a smartphone, but perhaps a tablet. Without Wi-Fi, all their data travels over a cellular network. With Wi-Fi, that same data is moved from the macro network to the local Wi-Fi link.
One of the concerns we hear most often about amenity Wi-Fi as a component of a HetNets solution is that it may not have acceptable quality. But those networks are very likely using business grade internet connectivity, and in many cases the very same business grade APs and network infrastructure. In larger establishments, those networks are likely also being used for internal business reasons, such as stock control or even mobile POS systems, that are managed and kept running by an IT department.
In smaller establishments, the equipment might not be as high end as those in a larger business, but in many cases it is still be a managed service. There are many companies providing managed services for small businesses wanting to offer Wi-Fi to their customers without the owner or employees needing to be IT experts themselves.
Finally, and this is just as applicable to carrier operated Wi-Fi networks as it is to amenity networks, a smart client on the handset can monitor the quality of the experience and make decisions about whether Wi-Fi is the best network to use right at that moment. Wi-Fi in a busy establishment, with lots of high bandwidth users online, can easily become unacceptably slow making the cellular network a better choice.
The Next Level
Amenity Wi-Fi is installed by establishments because they want their customers to use it. Larger businesses may also be delivering special services over it, but there is always a live internet connection too.
IDC reports that as many as 80% of mobile consumers are influenced by the presence of in-store Wi-Fi.
While providing internet connectivity may be sufficient to improve the experience for a small business’ customers, Devicescape can help business owners take this experience to the next level. If the establishment has opted to use the PopWiFi service, Devicescape will automatically send users a discrete notification when they get connected to the venue’s Wi-Fi. That notification can be a simple text message, but more often it will include a link to their website, or to Facebook page for their business.
Here and Now
Unlike additional spectrum, or even small cells and carrier deployed Wi-Fi, amenity Wi-Fi is here now, and can be used immediately by all smartphones, today. With the addition of an application on the smartphones to select networks and monitor performance in real-time, users will have access to additional network capacity, and improved coverage, particularly inside large buildings where cellular coverage can be weak or even non-existent.