Wi-Fi: Highlights and Christmas Lights

Posted on December 23, 2015

If you want to get a measure of public enthusiasm for Wi-Fi, check how often it’s in the media. Whether it’s local press applauding the switch-on of another free Wi-Fi network, the deluge of consumer and tech press coverage of Wi-Fi calling, or the perennial (and apparently not particularly persuasive) security scare stories, Wi-Fi is never out of the news.

Perhaps ‘enthusiasm’ doesn’t go far enough: The smartphone-toting public are, in fact, dependent on Wi-Fi for access to all the digital apps, services and content they love.

The latest Wi-Fi story to go viral came from an observation by UK communications regulator Ofcom that the performance of Wi-Fi routers can be affected by Christmas tree lights (among a host of other electronic devices).

After running in The Guardian, the story was picked up by numerous outlets; PBS, Fortune, and Wired to name just three. A canny piece of PR mischief, no doubt, but testament to the fact that people will happily sit on Wi-Fi connections reading about Wi-Fi.

(We had our own experience of this in November when we published a report into the quality of free Wi-Fi in the UK retail and service sectors. The U.S. version of the report is coming in January, so keep an eye out…)

Public engagement with all things Wi-Fi might have been impossible to predict in the beginning, but when you consider how many of the presents currently nestling under trees will be connecting to Wi-Fi on Christmas Day it is no longer surprising.

So what could all this mean for the companies involved in the provision of Wi-Fi. As the year draws to a close, here are a few thoughts on what to look out for in 2016:

  • People want Wi-Fi everywhere. This is a demand that no organization in isolation is able to meet; the economics simply don’t stack up. So we believe 2016 will see a decline in carrier-owned public Wi-Fi deployments (not including supply deals with retailers and venue owners), and possibly even some retrenchment. They can’t afford it.
  • Those carriers that want to continue to provide Wi-Fi connectivity will look to new solutions on the supply side. Devicescape announced two strategic partnerships in the second half of 2015 — with iPass and BandwidthX  — designed to expand the ways in which operators can access our network of free Wi-Fi. This is part of an important wider development in Wi-Fi provision and more announcements will come in 2016.
  • Public Wi-Fi will be de-stigmatized in the telecom industry. The ‘public’ who use public Wi-Fi have no problem with it, that much is clear enough. But the traditional carrier community has often sought to position it as somehow lower-grade than commercial or carrier Wi-Fi. Our deal with iPass was an important signal from the world’s leading commercial Wi-Fi provider that public Wi-Fi is in no way inferior — all that’s required is a way to manage its inherent fragmentation.
  • Public Wi-Fi will carry on growing faster than any other form of wireless connectivity. Widespread though it may already be, it continues to mushroom. We’ll be putting some numbers on this early in 2016.
  • There will be a tussle between brands and carriers to claim kudos for providing the free public Wi-Fi their customers love. In the U.S. and the UK some stores and venues have branded SSIDs while others either co-brand with — or cede branding entirely — to a carrier. Expect the brands in these latter categories to act on the realization that there is tremendous value in claiming attribution for such a great free service.
  • Amenity Wi-Fi is more than a simple customer value-add. It’s a brandable communications channel which holds the key to enhanced customer engagement. Big retail and service brands are getting wise to this but it’s a tough nut to crack. As always, simplicity is paramount, from the point of connection right through to engagement. We expect some significant developments in this area during 2016.

Wi-Fi is only going to get more important to a host of consumer experiences. It will be a hot news topic in 2016 just as it has been in 2015, you may even read a story or two about it over the holiday season. Just watch out for those Christmas lights.