Wi-Fi wars – a missed opportunity for operators?

Written by on August 25, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

Business People Rushing Walking Airport Travel ConceptYou would have thought that getting online in a public building would be easy. With Wi-Fi now in planes, trains and automobiles, something that does not move would surely be a simple thing to cover. Either the building itself can provide Wi-Fi access or a WiFi network such as Boingo should take up the challenge, or an operator should step up with either public Wi-Fi or 4G. Airports, crammed with busy executives with expense accounts and corporate email, should be able to provide super fast broadband, you would have thought.

But apparently they can’t.

According to a study carried out by research firm Rootmetrics (the same firm that started a Twitter attack from John Legere, when T-Mobile’s network was criticised for being inconsistent), airports are a nightmare, not a hot spot. US airports are basically a hit and miss affair. USA Today used Rootmetrics’ survey as the basis for an article in which they talked to travellers perplexed by the difference in coverage between airports. One executive who travels constantly says that ‘his AT&T iPad works well at most airports. His T-Mobile phone works well, too, unless he is at Chicago O’Hare, where it barely works at all.

“Inability to get coverage is frustrating, coupled with the fact that more often than not the Wi-Fi is unusable as well,”‘ he said.

Most airports come in for criticism, and the only one that seems to have the problem fixed is Atlanta. Many airports say that they are working on the problem. Many travellers would say ‘work faster’ and ‘what took you so long, airports are the other main place where you work.’

Perhaps this is why ‘carrier Wi-Fi gear’ is set for a bumper year this year, as operators step into the airport Wi-Fi void. Indeed, ‘large tier-1s such as China Mobile, drove global carrier Wi-Fi equipment revenue to US$336 million in the second half of 2014, up 23 percent over the first half of 2014. Infonetics expects a big annual jump—88 percent—in the carrier Wi-Fi market in 2015.’

This problem is made worse by owners of the other place where huge amounts of work are done – the trade show or exhibition. Again, the US is suffering from a protectionist approach by venue owners, such that our friend, the Sheri…, er Regulator has felt the need to challenge them to a duel at dawn (surely, slapped them with a fine, Ed).

Strangely, in this day and age, venue owners actually block cell or personal hot spot coverage, and force stand holders and visitors to sign on to their W-Fi, at the bargain price of just $80 a day. The words ‘daylight’ and ‘robbery’ spring to mind. The biggest culprit is a venue owner with the unlikely and beautifully ironic name of Smart City. Let us hope that Smart City has made rather more than the $750,000 fine that the Sheriff has imposed (FCC, surely, Ed).

It is weird that such obvious targets for broadband access are still either being blocked for misguided advantage or simply not being properly addressed, but until Wi-Fi becomes ubiquitous, surely operators have a huge opportunity. They could take advantage through carrier Wi-Fi or, using our new friend real-time charging, offer a data pack deal called, ‘The expo pack’ that offers roaming free data.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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