Treating Wi-Fi as the enemy - worst wireless blunders
It may be difficult to believe now but Wi-Fi networks and cellular networks did not always get along. Today Wi-Fi offloading is seen by carriers and vendors alike as an essential element of network architecture in an age of exploding mobile data usage. However, it took years for carriers to come to this realization.
Back in 2003, when EV-DO service from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) was still in its relative infancy, Wi-Fi was viewed skeptically in the wireless world. The common perception was, if CDMA 1x-RTT and EV-DO worked fine, why bother with Wi-Fi? As FierceWireless has noted, Jeffrey Belk, who was at the time senior vice president of marketing for CDMA giant Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), famously wrote a 2003 post titled "Adventures in Wi-Fi," in which he blasted the technology as obsolete in a wireless wide area network reality. Belk criticized the Wi-Fi business model, coverage and security in an effort to make a case for Qualcomm's 1xRTT and EV-DO technologies.
"So, I hope I've made the case for a few things," Belk concluded in his 5,599-word follow-up post, "Adventures in the Hotspot World--Part II." "One, coverage matters. Two, the type of applications used matters. And three, a hotspot service in a location often does not provide a simple user experience, a simple roaming model, or a simple and sustainable business model."
Through the middle part of the last decade, Wi-Fi continued to largely be seen as an alternative to cellular networks, not as a complement. However, this slowly started to change amid projections of how integral Wi-Fi would be to the handset and wireless industries. In June 2007, T-Mobile USA unveiled its Hotspot@Home service, which allowed subscribers with UMA-enabled cellular phones and a router to seamlessly hand off mobile calls from the cellular network to the Wi-Fi network when at home. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs answered criticism over a lack of 3G in the first iPhone by noting that users could piggyback on Wi-Fi networks.
AT&T started taking note as well, and in July 2007 launched its first Metro Wi-Fi solution around Riverside, Calif., though it charged $7.99 for daily access. The carrier also gave its high-speed DSL customers access to free Wi-Fi, but did not give iPhone users the same opportunity. That changed around the fall of 2008, when AT&T bought Wi-Fi access point provider Wayport for $275 million.
Still, Wi-Fi was not universally beloved by carriers. As late as 2009, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and Verizon were still wary of adding Wi-Fi to their BlackBerry devices. Network congestion from rising 3G data usage began forcing the carriers to rethink their stances on Wi-Fi though. AT&T added so-called W-Fi HotZones in dense urban areas such as New York City's Times Square, downtown Charlotte, N.C. and Chicago's Wrigleyville to offload that traffic from its macro network.
Even formerly staunch Wi-Fi opponent Qualcomm came to see the error of its ways, and plunked down $3.1 billion in January 2011 for Wi-Fi chipmaker Atheros, the company's largest acquisition of all time. Now, Wi-Fi and cellular networks are like two friends in a buddy comedy, on the road together. Earlier this year GSMA and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) announced they were working to create a framework that the groups said will make roaming between mobile networks and Wi-Fi hotspots more seamless by 2013. The initiative should be ready for commercial use by early 2013, according to Boingo Wireless CTO Niels Jonker.
Carriers erred in treating Wi-Fi as an enemy, a hostile network technology that they did not need to worry about or associate with. As cellular data traffic grew with the advent of smartphones and third-party mobile applications, such a position became untenable. Now, it's difficult to think of a carrier not using Wi-Fi in some way to relieve macro network congestion.
- Treating Wi-Fi as the enemy - worst wireless blunders