The most innovative carrier WiFi deployment was a new category for 2013, because the space has gotten a lot more exciting in the past year.
Operators are no longer debating the merits of WiFi. They are embracing it, improving it, and soon will be looking at ways to monetize it. (See Top 10 Carrier WiFi Worries and Carrier Wi-Fi: Always Best Connected.)
For this category, we looked for operators that are using WiFi to bolster their networks and offer a value-add to consumers, but that are also going above and beyond data dumping. Their services needed to show innovation and potential for further evolution.
You can see the full Leading Lights finalist list here. And, here are the three WiFi deployments that made our inaugural short list.
O2 Ltd. -- London's Canary Wharf
Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF)'s UK arm, Telefónica UK Ltd. , tapped Ruckus Wireless Inc. to blanket London's Canary Wharf with free WiFi access points. The Wharf is London's dense and busy financial and commercial district with 100,000 people passing through each day. O2 will connect the users, who tend to be WiFi-hungry business people, automatically after an initial log-in.
The deployment is notable because it is free to both O2 customers and non-customers alike, it involves indoor and outdoor small cells, covering four shopping malls, 240 cafes, bars and restaurants and shops, plus 20 acres of outdoor parks, and it's just the start of its plans to continue to upgrade WiFi alongside its 4G LTE network. O2 also gives its customers the added bonus of being able to make calls and send and receive texts over its 9,000 WiFi hotspots via its Tu Go application.
Time Warner Cable Inc. -- WiFi in New York City
It's no surprise that a cable company made the short list as the sector has taken a keen interest in WiFi this year, especially Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). The cable company added 1,000 WiFi hotspots in Manhattan in June for MLB All-Star Week, which it was sponsoring, to its existing network of 1,700 hotspots throughout the city. It also affixed hotspots to food trucks during the event, which, let's face it, are just as hot as WiFi right now.
TWC's WiFi deployment in NYC got more interesting the following month when it teamed up with the City and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) to blanket 32 NYC parks with WiFi as well. The group set up a $10 million investment for WiFi in parks and public spaces. The total TWC-branded WiFi footprint now includes 4,500 hotspots, but its customers have access to 75,000 through partnerships.
What makes TWC's WiFi especially smart is that it gives them a mobile service without touching cellular. It's been a way for the cable giant to create customer stickiness and encourage its customers to upgrade their home Internet service. TWC offers the WiFi free for those customers who sign up for, at least, its standard Internet service. Non-customers get a free 30-minute trial every 30 days, and everyone gets access to a free WiFi Finder app on Android and iPhones.
Virgin Media Business Ltd. -- Free City WiFi Virgin Media Business Ltd. has positioned itself as a partner to those cities that want to bring WiFi to their constituents and the oftentimes digitally unconnected. It has hung access points on all the lampposts in the cities of Leeds, Bradford, and Birmingham in the UK.
The WiFi deployment plays a dual role for Virgin Media Business, however. The company uses fiber backhaul connections to ensure the network's performance, but also to lease to mobile operators that can use it to bolster their 3G and 4G networks. It's a win-win for everyone: Residents get free WiFi, Virgin gets access to prime real estate for small cells, and the city gets a cut of the revenue it earns from the wireless operators.
Let us know your reactions to our picks, or feel free to suggest additional ones in the comments section below. As a reminder, the Leading Lights winners and latest Hall of Fame inductees will be revealed at the Leading Lights awards dinner, which will be held during the evening of Tuesday, October 1 at the outrageously hip The Out hotel in New York City. (For more details, see Leading Lights 2013.)
Then, head over to the Ethernet & SDN Expo, which takes place at the Javits Center, NYC, on October 2–3. (Details and the agenda are on our show site, Ethernet & SDN Expo.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading