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Top 10 Carrier WiFi Movers & Shakers

Sarah Thomas
12/20/2013
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Once a thorn in their network strategies, WiFi is now most wireless operators' saving grace. It's become an integral part of carrier networks, and the availability, quality, and handoff experience continues to improve.

It's an interesting time for WiFi in the wireless industry. For the most part, WiFi had to compete for attention with LTE network deployments in 2013, says Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown. All the backhaul improvements, core upgrades, and R&D went to the 4G network. But that could start to change in 2014. Already, most mobile usage is happening over WiFi rather than cellular, and next year, many operators will turn their attention to building out their LTE networks with small cells and WiFi.

Brown says to expect a lot of interesting developments to continue in 2014, including Hotspot 2.0 progress, a growing interest in venue services, carrier bonding with LTE and WiFi, and R&D on multipath TCP.

For our list of Carrier WiFi movers and shakers, we took a broad look at the industry and identified those companies being aggressive in adding WiFi access points (AP), innovating on how they monetize them, and working ahead on those developments that will define 2014.

We've focused here on the mobile industry, but that's not to ignore the work that's going on in the cable industry, where WiFi is becoming a huge priority. As such we've also included a page devoted to cable's movers and shakers, but we plan to look at them more closely in future coverage. (See Small Cells: The Battle for the Lamp Post, Cable WiFi Hotspots Could Hit 1M in Year, and Can Cable WiFi Scale?.)

So here's our resulting list of 10 people to keep an eye on, presented in no particular order. As with our Small Cells Movers & Shakers list -- WiFi's kissing cousin -- some of the names may be familiar, coming from big operators, while others represent new startups on the scene, each with innovative ideas about how to make WiFi work.

As always, please let us know what you think in the comments section below. Does your time siphoning free WiFi from coffee shops give you a different opinion? Anyone you'd add or take away? Feel free to weigh in on the message boards.

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    Sarah Thomas
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    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    1/3/2014 | 2:54:52 PM
    Re: Another candidate!
    Thanks, Claus. Torbjörn is another good one to watch. I've spoken to Aptilo awhile back, but haven't heard what they are doing lately. I'll be curious to see how they're shaping handoff. 
    ClausHetting
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    ClausHetting,
    User Rank: Light Beer
    1/3/2014 | 2:52:55 PM
    Another candidate!
    Hi Sarah

    You should have included Torbjörn Ward of Aptilo Networks - he's a guru and co-founder. Ericsson hardly market Wi-Fi at all, at least not to my knowledge. 
    Sarah Thomas
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    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    12/30/2013 | 12:29:55 PM
    Re: Thoughts on the list?
    Yeah, I almost included Ericsson on the list (put them in "people to watch" instead), particularly because of the handoff technology that introduced that is supposed to fix the authentication issue. But, the tech is proprietary and no customers were announced, so I think it may be too early to call it a success. Definitely something to keep an eye on though. They will do a lot more with their BelAir buy too.
    DOShea
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    DOShea,
    User Rank: Blogger
    12/30/2013 | 12:09:37 PM
    Re: Thoughts on the list?
    If you look at where a lot of the news has been coming from the last couple years, this list hits a lot of the key names. Vendor-wise, is someone from Ericsson worth consideration? I thought they were doing a lot after the BelAir deal, though I admit to not being very steeped in this particular segment.
    Sarah Thomas
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    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    12/27/2013 | 9:12:12 AM
    Thoughts on the list?
    So what did everyone think of the list? It's pretty extensive, but there's a lot of action going on in carrier WiFi and more to come next year. Did we miss anyone that should be on it?
    Sarah Thomas
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    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    12/27/2013 | 9:11:32 AM
    Re: Wifi Deployment
    My hope is that WiFi remains free, but I think the more it improves, the more operators wil look for ways to charge for it. I'm hoping they'll stick to other ways to monetize it like advertising, promotions and partnerships. It's hard to take something we've always enjoyed as free and make it a paid-for service.

    That's on the mobile side though. Cable is certainly booming in WiFi and is a different use case and business model a lot of the time. Seems like most are using it to encourage customers to upgrade to higher tiers of broadband service.
    MarkC73
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    MarkC73,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    12/23/2013 | 4:33:28 AM
    Wifi Deployment
    In the realm of personal consumer internet service, do you think Wifi will move from an on par benefit to a true differentiator?  Locally, and I don't have the service myself, but heard that TWC did a pretty good job with their Wifi deployment.  It's pretty new so it's probably underutilized but heard the coverage on the streets they do have installed is pretty responsive and seamless (and it's free for their customers).

    I think mobility is key, people want easy access, a free hot spot is one thing, but would you add to your monthly bill in order to have limited but predictable wifi in major urban areas?  I mean the more coverage you build and the more predictable stable service, the more cost that's associated with it.
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