Carrier WiFi initiatives from both wireless and cable service providers have really taken shape in the past year in terms of their scale and capabilities.
As such, we had a number of excellent entries to choose from in the category of "Most Innovative Carrier WiFi Deployment." This award goes to the communications service provider that has launched the most innovative carrier-class WiFi service for its customers in the past year. This year, new Hotspot 2.0 deployments that improve WiFi authentication show up twice in our finalist list, as does an operator monetizing WiFi in new ways, and one taking advantage of it to improve voice calling.
You can view the full Leading Lights shortlist here, but here are this year's WiFi candidates, presented in alphabetical order to stump the guessers.
Boingo Wireless, Inc. -- Passpoint Secure Network
Boingo Wireless Inc. has been an early champion of Hotspot 2.0, working to encourage other operators to support the standard as well. It was the first to trial the automatic authentication technology in Chicago's O'Hare airport last year. This served as a testing ground for wireless operators and handset makers to implement the technology, but Boingo has since expanded into actual commercial deployment in 23 airports across the US that serve 445 million customers annually.
In these airports, including LAX and JFK, Boingo customers with compatible devices are automatically switched on to its WPA2 encrypted wireless network without any log-in, landing page, or app required. This not only improves the experience for Boingo subscribers, but also those customers of its roaming partners, which include five out 10 largest mobile operators in the world.
Orange Poland -- Hotspot 2.0 WiFi deployment, Warsaw Royal Gardens
Speaking of Hotspot 2.0, Orange Poland was one of the very first to launch a commercial Hotspot 2.0 network in its country's largest park, the Warsaw Royal Gardens, covering 760,000 square meters. It announced the deployment, which uses Ruckus Wireless Inc. access points, at Mobile World Congress in February.
The use of Hotspot 2.0 is helping the operator reduce traffic pressure on its network as it is now easier to move customers to WiFi and, the operator says, this network provides faster, more reliable, and secure Internet access. Successful deployments like this will be crucial to encouraging other operators to adopt and support the standard, thus moving the WiFi market from trials to actual launches and improving the user experience for everyone.
Sprint Corp. -- VoWiFi Calling and Messaging Service
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) has found a way to eke more value out of its customers' existing WiFi networks by adding the ability to make voice calls and send texts over WiFi. In partnership with Kineto Wireless Inc. and Taqua LLC , Sprint began support voice-over-WiFi in February. The service currently works on select Android devices with more to come, and Sprint says it selects the strongest signal and seamlessly hands off between cellular and WiFi, so calls aren't dropped if customers leave the range of WiFi.
WiFi has grown so prevalent that using it for voice calls just makes sense, especially indoors where cellular service is often shoddy. Sprint wasn't the first in the US to offer VoWiFi: That distinction goes to T-Mobile US Inc. , but it's especially important to Sprint, which needs to move the volume away from its cellular network as it works through Network Vision-related growing pains.
Telecom Corporation of New Zealand Ltd. (Telecom) -- Telecom WiFi
Telecom New Zealand Ltd. (NYSE: NZT; New Zealand: TEL) got into WiFi in 2010 when it needed a network to communicate during disaster recovery after an earthquake that year, but it officially launched an 802.11ac WiFi network nationwide in September of last year. As of March 2014, Telecom had 900 live WiFi hotspots up and running in the new network.
What makes this deployment unique is that the operator is monetizing the hotspots using Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s Connected Mobile Experiences platform that personalizes the WiFi service with location information and analytics, as well as with roaming deals and wholesale partnerships. Telecom is also using it as a way to attract new customers and upgrade existing customers, since it's free on selected data plans and $10 per month for non-customers.
The Leading Lights winners and newest class of Hall of Fame inductees will be unveiled at the Leading Lights awards dinner, which will be held the evening of Tuesday, June 17 at Chicago's Adler Planetarium. (For more details, see Bumper Year for the Leading Lights Awards.)
The star-studded soirée will proceed the second day of Light Reading's Big Telecom Event, taking place at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on June 17-18. (Details and the agenda are on our show site, Big Telecom Event.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading