Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser said that while the company, a key provider of a virtualized carrier Wi-Fi network, is in favor of the Hotspot 2.0 standard, that is only an interim solution and more technology is needed to deliver greater value to carriers from Wi-Fi networks.
In an interview with FierceWirelessTech, Fraser said Devicescape is in favor Hotspot 2.0. "Anything that makes the carriers aware of the strategic value [of Wi-Fi] is a good thing as far as we're concerned," he said. Yet Fraser also called Hotspot 2.0 just an "interesting baby step."
Devicescape's Curated Virtual Network (CVN) counts 20 million hotspots worldwide. The company uses crowdsourcing to expand its CVN, with Devicescape software running on millions of handsets around the world and gathering data on new and existing hotspots.
Hotspot 2.0 is an interoperable Wi-Fi authentication and handoff technology that enables automatic, seamless data roaming between Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance offers a certification program for Hotspot 2.0 devices under its Passpoint brand. Devices that pass this certification testing can be referred to as "Passpoint devices." Because Passpoint certification is based on the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 specification, one tends to see the terms "Passpoint" and "Hotspot 2.0" used interchangeably, though that is not technically accurate. Hotspot 2.0 has an access point technology counterpart called Next Generation Hotspot (NGH).
Fraser said while seamless authentication can happen, "it happens in a blunt knife scenario." In other words, if there is a Hotspot 2.0 Wi-Fi network nearby, a handset will seamlessly authenticate with it, but the device has no real idea of whether or not, at that moment, it's better to be on Wi-Fi or remain on a carrier's LTE network. Carriers can tell devices to switch to Hotspot 2.0 networks automatically, Fraser said, but it's kind of like an on-off switch and nothing more.
Fraser said that's because, in order to determine whether or not it's better to be on Wi-Fi or remain on a carrier's LTE network, carriers also need to use access network discovery and selection functions (ANDSF), which Devicescape provides through a client. Fraser said vendors as varied as Amdocs, Cisco Systems, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Openet and Ruckus Wireless provide ANDSF solutions.
Fraser said Wi-Fi access points can telegraph to devices what the state of the network is like, but that doesn't say anything about what the true experience for the user is going to be, since the signal strength may be terrible or the access point may have 300 people seeking to access the network.
"We think there's always going to be room for some technology that's monitoring the quality of experience for the user," Fraser said. He thinks Hotspot 2.0 networks will continue to be relatively small in size for some time.
No U.S. carrier has officially implemented a Hotspot 2.0 strategy, though some, including AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), have expressed support for the technology. Last week Sprint (NYSE:S) CTO Stephen Bye stopped short of voicing support for Hotspot 2.0 technology, saying instead that Sprint would continue to watch the standard's evolution.
The Wi-Fi Alliance started certifying Hotspot 2.0-capable devices under the Passpoint program in the summer of 2012, and hotspot providers have been installing NGH software into their access points since last year. However, at this point, Hotspot 2.0 networks supported by carriers are still in trial mode.
Fraser also fleshed out the business models Devicescape started rolling out in February. Devicescape provides Wi-Fi offload services for mobile operators and OEMs, including Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), which is being acquired by AT&T (NYSE:T); U.S. Cellular; T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) MetroPCS unit; C Spire; MVNO Republic Wireless; Intel; and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), deployed by Verizon (NYSE:VZ).
The Devicescape chief said in the U.S. the company's focus has expanded to the Tier 1 carriers. The focus is on an "ABC" strategy, for "always best connection" and helping them provide subscribers with the best wireless connection, whether that's through LTE or Wi-Fi. He said the firm is working with Tier 1 U.S. carriers but he cannot disclose which ones.
Devicescape is also developing its analytics platform, which Fraser said he is "pretty excited" about. He said many smartphone subscribers now spend up to two-thirds of their time on Wi-Fi and off cellular networks, and so carriers have less visibility into network and subscriber. The platform is designed to "give that visibility back on the operator."
Devicescape is also looking at an "access" product to allow the shops and venues that make up its network to directly engage and advertise with users who are accessing Wi-Fi via their access points.
Further, the company is looking to expand internationally. Right now it only has 1 million hotspots outside of North America, but in February it signed a deal with Virgin Media in the UK. Fraser estimated that in 18 months that deal alone will expand the number of its hotspots in the UK to between 1.2 million and 1.3 million locations.
Last year Devicescape started expanding into Latin America and Europe, though Fraser said some countries, such as Germany and Spain, have been weak spots because of government legislation and other issues. However, the firm has completed three trials with European Tier 1 operators and is in trials with four others for its analytics and products. In 2015, Fraser said the company might expand into the Asia Pacific region.
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