Carrier WiFi

Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

2:40 PM -- CHICAGO -- 4G World 2011 -- Enjoy your wireless operator's free Wi-Fi while you still can, because it could soon be a thing of the past. Wireless operators will be investing up to nine figures in Wi-Fi by next year, according to a Ruckus Wireless Inc. exec, and they have to recoup it somehow.

Steven Glapa, senior director of field marketing at the Wi-Fi offload vendor, says that most operators are at least exploring how to charge for Wi-Fi now. Most, like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), which has 29,000 hot spots, offer it free as a value-added service today. But Glapa says operators, in general, are considering bundling in an extra cost for the off-network access into data plans and counting that usage against the data cap.

“Once they have the policy management in place to integrate Wi-Fi into [their networks], you have those options,” Glapa said in a 4G World interview.

Right now most operators are approaching Wi-Fi as an easy way to dump data traffic off their networks, but as vendors introduce policy management solutions that let them keep an eye on users as they traverse between the networks, it’s becoming possible to track -- and monetize -- subscribers, regardless of what network they are on. (See Wireless Operators Embrace Wi-Fi as Their Own and Mobile Wi-Fi Offload.)

Charging for Wi-Fi seems to be the inevitable next step after doing away with unlimited data plans, but I’d advise the operators to tread carefully. Consumers may be used to paying for hotel and airport access, but they love operator Wi-Fi because it’s free and unlimited. Taking that away is sure to cause a backlash.

Or if they feel they have to charge for Wi-Fi, an extra $5 on the data plan may be forgivable, but also counting that use against the data cap will be a much harder pill to swallow.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

pmicali1 12/5/2012 | 4:50:17 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

I think you bring up some great points.  There will be huge consumer backlash, at least initially, in response to a switch to paid Wi-Fi access.  I also think there networks would take huge hits, particularly AT&T, as they lost some of the benefits from the offload you mentioned.  What I don't understand however is where the decision is coming from: Netflix was facing rising copyright licensing fees and new competitors practically every month, is the only motivator here greed?

NetworkOptimizer 12/5/2012 | 4:50:19 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

Operators will get Netflix"ed" if they do this. Atleast that will be the initial  reaction.


Wi-Fi offload is used for 2 reasons: Extend coverage and Expand capacity. Currently operators need that as their 3G networks suck. If they deploy LTE and took care of those 2 problems they might not need Offload (It does say offload). But, that would be a pipe dream as it costs more to cover every possible region.

If they do eventually charge for offload they might need to provide better user experience like seamless data sessions (I don't want my video chat/pandora to disconnect when I move into Wi-Fi if I am paying for Wi-Fi). Again Netflix tried to do that, charging for on-demand without improving the on-demand service(their movie selection sucks).


AESerm 12/5/2012 | 4:50:20 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

How many would howl if forced to pay? Enough to join in mendyk's Occupy Hot Spot (very funny, that)? I'd guess status quo free will remain. A topic for another day, related to AT&T's wireless set-top news: Despite ubiquity of Wi-Fi and strength of 802.11n, I'm wondering how much weight it can really pull in the home networking domain.



Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:50:21 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

True, they'd get hit upside the head if they tried to change that policy mid-stream after offering it for "free" as part of the modem service. I think they can afford to leave it in there as a value-add since the margins on HSD are so good, plus they are still gaining subs in that category.  I think we'll see MSOs charge for a TV Everywhere component before they'll charge HSD subs for the WiFi access. JB


shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:50:21 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

One big difference is that cable operators aren't using wi-fi to divert traffic from their networks, so as you say it's a value-add. For mobile operators, though, wi-fi does lower traffic volumes on their core services. Given current bandwidth/spectrum issues, that's not a concern today, but at some point mobile operators will see wi-fi as cannibalizing their higher-priced services. And it won't be the first time that customers end up paying for something they've gotten for free in the past.

craigleddy 12/5/2012 | 4:50:21 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

I'm in the New York burbs where Cablevision offers free wi-fi to its subs and is integrating it with Time Warner Cable and Comcast across their Northeast footprints, mainly for added value and to combat Verizon FiOS. It's nice to have though it can be spotty and slow. Cablevision will face a backlash if they start charging New Yawkers for it, but they must be thinking about how to make a buck off this. Anyone have any inside info or good guesses?    

shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:50:22 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

One key to business success is to make money every way you can. Now that users are hooked on wi-fi, why wouldn't operators look to turn that addiction into a revenue opportunity? Also, keep in mind that wi-fi isn't a zero-cost proposition, although it is very low cost compared with conventional mobile data service.

mj42 12/5/2012 | 4:50:22 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

If they do, they will charge for WiFI access because they can. It's about increasing revenue per customer. ATMs were installed to save banks money by requiring less tellers. Now banks charge to use ATMS. Providers have to be careful. If WiFi access is a per month charge and it still counts against the data cap then why pay the fee. Just keep your data onthe cellular network. It might be slower but it costs less. That will cost the carrier more money inthe long run.

billy_fold 12/5/2012 | 4:50:22 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

I may be wrong, but I think that WiFi actually saves money for the service provider because it reduces the amount of build out they have to do on their mobil network by off loading some of the traffic locally to the Internet.  I guess I don't understand why they should charge us to save them money.  They should pay us to use their WiFi or give us a credit against mobil usage if we use their free WiFi.


paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:50:24 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

Wait a minute...

I get the idea that they have to long distance backhaul the cell traffic, but WiFi can be dumped locally.  To equate these is just plain wrong.



rushal 12/5/2012 | 4:50:24 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

For example, there are AT&T wi-fi hotspots at various Starbucks outlets where any starbucks customer (or even a non-customer) can get access to wi-fi. How can they track that? $5 extra charge for AT&T subscribers is also not justified as not all of the wi-fi users are AT&T subscribers.

mobileinsider 12/5/2012 | 4:50:25 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

"Once they have the policy management in place to integrate Wi-Fi into [their networks], you have those options,” Glapa said.."

Guess Ruckus' gear does not inegrate with the carrier core. Cisco and BelAir already have this covered with Cable Cos and AT&T.

Wi-Fi as part of my monthly is a great feature...may even keep me from switching carriers once 'the next big thing' comes out.


sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:50:25 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi traffic is integrated with most wireless operators' backends, but most aren't yet tracking it. I think the next wave is adding policy management and rules to Wi-Fi.

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:50:25 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

I think shared data plans for multiple-device ownership or families is inevitable too. That can be a good thing, but I bet operators will charge to combine plans also.

shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:50:26 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

Shocking. Time to organize Occupy Hot Spot?

tnewby 12/5/2012 | 5:42:34 PM
re: Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi

I don't see operators being able to charge for Wi-Fi - they don't control the Wi-Fi ecosystem.  One important, possible the most important, part of the Wi-Fi ecosystem is the places where you use Wi-Fi.  I don't see any large brands (the venue owners) allowing operators to charge for Wi-Fi.  The unarguable fact is that the operators don't control wether or not you can charge for Wi-Fi at a restaurant, hotel, cafe, etc... The owners of the venue dictate that.  Can you imagine Starbucks or McDonalds charging for Wi-Fi?  Taco Bell will be implementing Wi-Fi soon and they've already said that it would be free for customers.  So the question is, if 90% of public venues offer free Wi-Fi to it's customers how would operators charge for Wi-Fi?  Would they charge you $5 per month just to turn the Wi-Fi chipset on in your phone????  Yes, the term Netflixed comes to mind....

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