Carrier WiFi

Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

As if Wi-Fi providers and users didn’t have enough interference sources to worry about, add global warming to the list. The U.K. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently warned that more rainstorms and heat waves will shrink Wi-Fi coverage and undermine QoS.

The timing couldn’t be worse, considering how Wi-Fi dependency continues to soar. Take AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), whose customer base took all of 2008 to hit 20 million Wi-Fi connections. They took only six months in 2009 and five weeks in 2010 to match that.

The dependents also include companies that are quietly building countrywide databases of Wi-Fi signals – both public and private – for goals that almost certainly include being able to locate and deliver services to mobile users without the help and royalty expectations of wireless carriers.

As discussed in the new Heavy Reading Mobile Networks Insider report, “More Wi-Fi Means More QoS Challenges for Operators,” although 3G offload is a major reason why Wi-Fi spending and usage keep growing, there are plenty of other reasons why service providers of every stripe are expanding into 802.11.

For example, MSOs such as Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) – whose New York-area Wi-Fi network was used more than 1 million times in its first seven months – love Wi-Fi because it’s a way to get into the wireless market without the steep cost of spectrum and cellular infrastructure.

In some cases, Wi-Fi is the only way for an operator to deliver value-added, market-differentiating services. For example, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, iPhone owners can connect to the stadium's Wi-Fi network to watch instant replays and other content from the Giants' Digital Dugout. That content is unavailable over 3G not because of bandwidth limitations, but rather because Wi-Fi is a local-area technology, and the Giants control all digital rights in their facility.

The common denominator for all of these business models and revenue opportunities is that they’re seriously at risk if users perceive Wi-Fi as slow and unreliable. Not surprisingly, interference is typically the top concern for wireless carriers that are considering adding Wi-Fi to their service portfolio. "For mobile operators' RAN engineering teams, the very first question is, 'What about interference?'" says Steven Glapa, senior director of field marketing at Ruckus Wireless Inc. .

The catch is that although interference is a problem, it’s often not the main reason for poor QoS. "Authentication not happening is the No. 1 problem we typically have to deal with," says Marcio Avillez, iPass Inc. (Nasdaq: IPAS) VP of supply management.

This isn’t a minor issue. For example, if that hot spot charges a fee, and the user doesn’t have an account with that operator/aggregator, then the problem becomes lost revenue because the user will not purchase a day pass for service. Another example is a business traveler who can’t connect to the employer-approved hot spot service and goes with whatever is available, possibly a rogue AP.

For operators and aggregators, the good news is that there’s no shortage of Wi-Fi infrastructure designed to work around interference and other QoS gremlins. Those QoS-enhancing features also don’t necessarily come at a steep price premium. For example, Ruckus's BeamFlex architecture puts a large number of smart antennas into an array that connects to a smaller number of radio chains via a digital switch. The company says this design is less expensive than if there were a 1:1 ratio between smart antennas and radio chains.

Hotels are another big market for next-gen gear, especially those that cater to business travelers or charge a fee for Wi-Fi. In fact, the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study found that Wi-Fi is among the top five "must-have" amenities.

"It's not unusual for us to be called into a hotel that's still operating an 802.11b network from over a decade ago, and they're dealing with 20, 30, 40 percent reimbursements to users who don't like their Wi-Fi," one Wi-Fi vendor says. Upgrading the network is cheaper than reimbursements – or telling guests to blame global warming.

— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Mobile Networks Insider

This report, "More Wi-Fi Means More QoS Challenges for Operators," is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Heavy Reading Mobile Networks Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/mobile-networks.

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shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:57:49 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

Tim -- So the SF Giants are using wi-fi as a way to bypass conventional mobile data service in the facility known as AT&T Park? As Astro would say, Ruh?

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:57:47 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

Cisco has a strategy around this, which I think it calls Stadium WiFi. The idea is to make the WiFi network a "service platform" since if you're attending a major event there’s probably stuff specific to that event you might be interested in – replays, or whatever – and there’s no point putting that on the carrier network only to pull it down again.

It’s not anti-carrier or anything like that, thou. With SIM-authentication operators are trying to make it easier to connect this type of WiFi network, especially where they know the WiFi is good.


shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:57:47 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

Here on the low-tech East Coast, our sporting teams seem content to drive traffic to their carrier sponsors -- basic stuff like using your phone to participate in polls, contests, etc. Maybe there's just more interest here in watching what's happening on the playing field rather than what's available on the mobile device.

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:57:46 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

Fair point. It's the same kind of thing thou, just a newer format.

Anyway, it seems like there's quite a bit of down-time in American sports when not much appears to be happening. Maybe use Internet to fill in the gaps?

shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:57:46 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

Hmmm -- you mean, as opposed to the action-packed spectacle known on your side of the planet as ... football? Or maybe you're thinking of hurling, which at least brings potentially lethal weapons into the discussion.


timkridel 12/5/2012 | 4:57:40 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality? Cisco has been very aggressive in the stadium/arena market, from networking through displays: http://www.proavmagazine.com/a...
Ananth Guruprasad 12/5/2012 | 4:57:32 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

Well, the battle between Femtos/enterprise Pico and WiFi Offload devices has been in the headlines for some time now. Will the issues based on QoS push operators to use femtocells more frequently the the WiFi AP's? Especially in countries like India where the BWA spectrum for proposed LTE deployment is 2.3GHz, I guess chances of intereference with Wifi (2.4GHz) may be high

MMQoS 12/5/2012 | 4:57:19 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

LoL as I read this because I/we here in No. Calif. am/are watching ATT petition my city to deploy 802.11 antennae on the tops of city-owned utility poles in our city in hope of fixing their infrastructure/iPhone coverage issue.  They even had the gaul to ask my city to allow their techs free access thru people's residences across the street from the flagship Apple store to install .11 antennae on those peoples' balconies because ATT can't provide decent cellular service for their iPhone customers walking out of the store.   What is interesting is that Verizon, with both their iPhone and Androids terminals, has none of these problems.

But to WiFi QoS, when we develped the IEEE802.11 std it was designed to AUGMENT, not replace Ethernet (802.3) and Token Ring (802.5) LAN networks and never to be deployed as a metro network.  Now service providers are looking for the solution that defers costly new cellular infrastructure deployment.   802.11 is a SHARED access NETWORK unliked our new switched transport networks and will always degrade in transport QoS with increased usuage and number of connections.  MiMO and Femto cell segmentation can help but it will increase the cost to the tipping point where it will no longer be cheaper than enhanced 3G/LTE investments in cell infrastructure.  

I still say that you still get the QoS that you pay for and 802.11 WiFi remains the textbook case.


Tobarja 12/5/2012 | 4:56:48 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

I went to a concert last weekend in North Carolina. During the opening acts, the big-screens ran several different SMS text promotions, ticket upgrades, etc.

I did not notice an open wifi network.

kaps 12/5/2012 | 4:56:28 PM
re: Who Cares About Wi-Fi Quality?

Interesting to see also the crackdown by Starbucks, removing power supplies from the cafe-worker campers who stretch one latte into a full day of bandwidth. Like unlimited wireless, free Wi-Fi is going to be a thing of the past, fairly soon.

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