October 29, 2013
Although the WiFi market continues to quickly grow and evolve, there are still significant obstacles on the path to achieving seamless and improved WiFi usage.
There’s been a lot of focus on WiFi lately, possibly due to recent developments in the connected mobile industry. For example, the realization that more time between smartphone upgrades could mean slower growth for the mobile industry made carriers realize that, in order to speed up the smartphone cycle again, they must instill a need for users to have the newest, speediest smartphones. In addition, recent research has revealed that a growing user base demands high-quality, next-generation business mobility options.
Below are a list of the toughest problems carriers face when it comes to a seamless WiFi experience, according to an article from Light Reading.*
One of the biggest problems with WiFi is its inability for seamless handoff and automatic authentication.
Currently, the WiFi Alliance is working to solve this problem with a new approach to public access Wi-Fi (Hotspot 2.0). With a new set of protocols to enable cellular-like roaming, mobile devices will enter a Hotspot 2.0 zone and automatically join a network. The goal? To securely connect devices to the operator WiFi network or a partner network, making WiFi authentication invisible and automatic for the user.
Speaking of authentication, currently the only active methods for a secure login are SIM or device-based authentication. Devices that don’t support SIM-based authentication (such as WiFi-only iPads) require text, manual login, third-party tokens, or other forms of authentication. That’s when things get tricky, because carriers must ensure security while also maintaining a positive user experience.
The addition of combination 3G, 4G and WiFi small cells by carriers will make it harder to control how/when a device attaches to WiFi, rather than to cellular networks. Yet, the difficult nature of mounting rights encourages carriers to acquire these combo cells for as much potential integration as possible.
Unfortunately, no technology will address third-party WiFi networks, which is important because operators are signing up varied partners for WiFi. To ensure top quality at home and abroad, carriers need service-level agreements with their roaming partners – especially since users who have negative experiences with the network tend to blame the carriers.
For network operators, it’s not easy to decide exactly when to switch to WiFi. They must think about how they’re distributing policy to the device, as well as how the device is acting on it. Ultimately, the challenge is how to achieve policy application for the end goal of keeping track of customers.
Free WiFi has become a given, so it’s unlikely that operators would start charging for it. That opens the floor for other monetization ideas. Currently, a few carriers offer free WiFi through their international roaming plans, but cap usage at 1GB. Another idea would be to Include advertisements in WiFi, although it remains to be seen exactly how this could be achieved, or how users would react.
The two major standards bodies for WiFi (3GPP and IEEE) conflict heavily when it comes to principles, processes and norms, adding an unnecessary layer of complexity to the WiFi environment. This slows down progress in the industry, especially when considering outside facets (e.g. the consumer electronics ecosystem, home networking ecosystem and handset maker ecosystem).
Voice calls will be made over WiFi once voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) turns it into a data service, meaning that the quality of service should be the same on WiFi as on the cellular network, with seamless handoffs regarding voice calls. Since the unlicensed spectrum doesn’t have a reputation for providing reliable connectivity and predictable performance, reliability and performance is the biggest issue here.
Especially in public settings, WiFi networks can easily become overloaded once traffic surpasses a certain level. As a result, experts say that mobile operators should continue to create a viable network with many access points, in order to ensure good coverage and scale.
It’s always frustrating when your device tries in vain to connect to a broken or closed network. According to experts, it’s a common problem that Hotspot 2.0 may not be able to solve.
The recent deal between Cisco and Facebook is a great example of how these WiFi concerns could come into play. This deal, which would allow potential users to sign into their Facebook accounts to access the network, could either be innovative and successful – or it could deter users from connecting.
According to WiFi experts, single sign-on (SSO) is too invasive, making users wary about logging into their personal accounts and checking in at specific locations. They suspect that today’s users expect “no sign-on,” since conversion rates are generally lower when users have to sign in.**
The end goal would be for operators to integrate WiFi into their networks to track users and offloaded customers while also maintaining the quality of a positive user experience. As of right now, these WiFi problems (some which seem more insurmountable than others) are the only things preventing us from being able to seamlessly transition from WiFi to cellular networks automatically and improve the WiFi experience for all.