Carrier WiFi

The Changing Face of 'Amenity WiFi'

The dynamics of deploying and networking in-store WiFi are undergoing another major shift, according to Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser.

Devicescape Software Inc. has pulled together a network of 16 million "amenity WiFi" hotspots in small restaurants, bars, and stores worldwide. Fraser, however, is spotting a change in the market happening higher up the food chain.

"We're seeing the service providers being woken up by the entry of the Internet giants into the market," he says. "We view it as part of the continuing dynamic of amenity WiFi."

Fraser cites Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s win with Starbucks, which will see it replace AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) as the coffee chain's in-store WiFi provider, and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s deal with Facebook as recent examples of this change. (See Google, Starbucks Start AT&T Router Swap and In the Air Tonight: Cisco & Facebook's WiFi Tie-Up.)

Fraser remains to be convinced of the value of some of the aspects of the Cisco-Facebook deal: "The good news about this is there's a single sign-on; the bad news is there's a single sign-on," he says. (See Top 10 Carrier WiFi Worries .)

Fraser argues that "no sign-on" is increasingly what users expect these days. The Devicescape app works like this, running through available connections to find the best one, be it cellular or WiFi. Therefore, he expects any move to sign-on to WiFi via Facebook will "play out slowly." (See Cricket Leaps to Devicescape's WiFi Aggregator.)

He says that people will need to be convinced to sign on and traditionally conversion rates "aren't high" when WiFi users are asked to sign in. He also notes that people might, at least initially, find it "creepy" to share an additional layer of data with Facebook by signing in at a specific location.

The deal could be good for Cisco though, Fraser notes, as it's targeted at "big brands" and will likely help Cisco shift more wireless access points and controllers as retail chains and hotels install or upgrade hardware. "It could be quite a big revenue driver for Cisco on the hardware side," Fraser states.

The CEO notes, however, that Devicescape is talking to all the major Internet players eyeing the amenity WiFi market. He is mostly focused on the smaller users that want to offer wireless in-store to customers. "By volume it's really dominated by the unaffiliated networks, the guy with the $40 router in his store," Fraser says. (See Devicescape Handles 1.5B Wi-Fi Connections Monthly.)

Fraser says that the Devicescape "curated" network of hotspots is above 12 million now although he didn't reveal the exact figure. The CEO expects to have 20 million to 23 million locations up by the end of this year. Around 10 million of those will be running the Devicescape "PopWiFi" software, which lets retail locations more easily interact with users on their WiFi connection. (See 2013 Leading Lights Finalists: Best New Product (Mobile).)

"With PopWiFi, we're completely focused on the long tail, the Mike's Pizza, the Jesse's Burger, or the public library," he says, as this will enable these smaller locations to offer customers coupons and online updates just as larger chains are starting to move into this area too.

Devicescape's next step is to make the PopWiFi software available via the major app stores so it doesn't have to be installed on the user's phone. They can simply download it to manage connections and interact with stores. "Over this quarter, you'll see us start to make PopWiFi applications available in traditional app stores," Fraser says.

Fraser is also expecting to have more international locations outside North America open up over the balance of this year. "Towards the end of this year international expansion should kick in," Fraser claims.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

DanJones 10/22/2013 | 7:10:39 PM
Re: WiFi Deployments Look at the Cisco play in conjuntion with the cable WiFi stuff and it makes total sense for a big networking hardware player. Get to install a fresh round of APs and the software to control them.
DanJones 10/21/2013 | 9:39:04 PM
Re: No Sign-on For Sure Supposed to, hasn't yet...
DOShea 10/21/2013 | 9:24:58 PM
Re: No Sign-on For Sure Hotspot 2.0 is supposed to solve some of these problems right?
Sarah Thomas 10/21/2013 | 5:03:22 PM
Re: No Sign-on For Sure Definitely hard to do well. Carriers like AT&T say their offload is seamless, but it still requires a sign-in every time at Starbucks even if you're an AT&T customer (I've found at least. They say it ain't so.) That'll soon be a moot point in Starbucks, but seamless needs to mean no sign-on to be truly seamless.
DanJones 10/21/2013 | 3:47:48 PM
Re: No Sign-on For Sure Good point. You're going to need a trusted entity as the sign-on manager as this stuff gets more automated.
Kruz 10/21/2013 | 3:32:52 PM
Re: No Sign-on For Sure I would not like sharing an additional layer with fb for sure but I would still want to stay in control of what wifi I sign in to, considering it might just be a network I'll judge unsafe.
DanJones 10/21/2013 | 2:14:48 PM
Re: No Sign-on For Sure Hard to do well though. The Devicescape app basically brute-force steps through available connections on a checklist to make it happen. Seems like its going to take a while before no-sign on becomes standard everywhere.
Carol Wilson 10/21/2013 | 2:01:14 PM
No Sign-on For Sure I'd agree with the "no sign-on" preference, especially for casual spots like retail stores. No one wants to be constantly fiddling with their phones to find WiFi. The more seamless and easy-to-use, the better. 
DanJones 10/21/2013 | 1:21:26 PM
WiFi Deployments Fraser thinks Cisco could be looking at 50 to 1,000 hotspots and 10s of controllers with some of these Facebook-focused deployments. But he thinks that Cisco will really need to work to convince these big accounts to install or replace --- most likely replace these days -- their WiFi gear.
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