Wi-Fi – “the toy that grew up”
Historically, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) looked at Wi-Fi as a toy, a low-end technology that was great to off-load data from networks. Now Wi-Fi is having a strategic impact on MNOs across the globe. Now the question is LTE or Wi-Fi: remind me which one’s for off-load?
Yet, as with many technical innovations, the low-end always wins. Wi-Fi is a classic example of this theory. Through a combination of Moore’s Law, economies of scale, R&D investments and free market dynamics Wi-Fi is king of the hill. In most developed countries people and things can access a Wi-Fi network in 80% of locations. Companies, such as Devicescape, have created virtual networks based on “ambient’ Wi-Fi networks. Hotspots are so ubiquitous that Opensignal launched an application to find the best one out of the many available.
Wi-Fi and Hotspots are becoming strategic to all carriers (fixed and mobile) as they have realized the importance of keeping traffic on their network for quality of experience and billing purposes. The market for carrier Wi-Fi gear continues to grow as carriers look to exploit these opportunities.
Today, high- speed access to the Internet is as fundamental as indoor plumbing. People expect it and city and national governments view it as mandatory for many economic development and quality of life issues. With the ubiquity of Wi-Fi enabled devices and the simplicity of Wi-Fi deployments it is no surprise that Wi-Fi is a leading candidate to achieve this. Even in remote,rural and under-developed regions, Wi-Fi leads the ways.
Even with fierce competition from ZigBee and other alternatives Wi-Fi is also a leading network technology for applications using IoT technologies. Wearables are no exception. LG smart watches use Wi-Fi and researchers are looking to Wi-Fi for an entire body network. We could all become Wi-Fi access points.
Yet success breeds challenges. Wi-Fi uses attractive unlicensed frequency bands and the licensed crowd wants in as the LTE community is looking to use the same 5 Ghz frequency band. Trying to head off a battle royale, the U.S. FCC has already entered the fray.
Wi-Fi, the toy that grew up, continues its momentum to solve real problems for consumers, businesses, service providers and governments. It was often said never to bet against Ethernet, I’d like to add never bet against Wi-Fi.
Greg Whelan, ACG Research