Operators trust 'untrusted' Wi-Fi networks but not pre-standard Hotspot 2.0

Mobile operators are willing to expand their Wi-Fi footprints via "untrusted" third-party networks but, paradoxically, are reluctant to adopt seamless offloading techniques until they are fully compliant with new standards, according to a survey by analysis firm Ovum.

Wi-Fi offloading is now included in the majority of infrastructure strategy plans, with operators exploring multiple avenues to expand their Wi-Fi reach. Most operators are willing to work with third-party providers of hotspots to build out their Wi-Fi footprints, even if that means using networks that might be considered "untrusted" or "non-controlled," such as free public networks found at hotels or libraries, said Ovum.

Despite this casual attitude regarding the use of non-controlled networks, operators are reluctant to adopt new seamless offloading technologies until they are sure of their market readiness. Only a small minority of operators told Ovum they would deploy Automatic Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF) and Hotspot 2.0 solutions prior to their full standardization, even if a vendor said its product is fully compliant with the standard.

"What compliance actually means appears to be a big issue here. For example, most respondents answered 'Don't know' when it came to their willingness to deploy pre-standardized compliant solutions. Greater information on what compliance actually means could reduce the number of 'don't know' responses," said Daryl Schoolar, principal analyst with Ovum's network infrastructure telecoms team.

Ovum also ascertained that today's carrier-grade solutions do not fully meet operators' needs. Operators surveyed said that for Wi-Fi to truly satisfy their offloading needs, they need features that are not commonly available on a large scale. "Over half expect session continuity when moving between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, while over 90 percent are also looking for a device-based policy solution that would select the best network (3G/4G/Wi-Fi) based on cost, performance, and other policy-driven features," said the firm.

Schoolar noted that just a few years ago, mobile operators had negative opinions of Wi-Fi offloading, but their tunes have changed as they wrestle with growing data traffic.

Other research has highlighted operators' growing interest in Wi-Fi offloading. In May Infonetics Research said that two-thirds of mobile service providers it interviewed have deployed 20,000 to more than 150,000 Wi-Fi access points in public spaces. The firm's survey of 24 mobile, incumbent and competitive operators revealed that street coverage is seen as one of the areas of greatest deficit for Wi-Fi. "By 2013, the percentage of service providers planning to deploy Wi-Fi for street coverage jumps to 79 percent," said the firm.

The top driver for Wi-Fi offloading is complementing the mobile data service by enhancing throughput, followed by the scarcity of licensed spectrum as a key motivator, said Infonetics.

Wi-Fi offloading could eventually become a victim of its own success, however. Researchers at the University of Twente in Holland believe that Wi-Fi is reaching capacity limits due to an upsurge in devices using the unlicensed technology. The researchers claim that when many Wi-Fi-enabled devices are simultaneously active, capacity and efficiency starts to be impacted, with actual transmission speeds being dragged down by as much as 20 percent of the advertised rates.

For more:
- see this Ovum release

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