Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – A bright future for WiFi

Recently I’ve had several conversations with people about the future of WiFi. The debate around WiFi versus 3G data is a contentious one that frequently provokes a frank exchange of views! However this ‘either or’ debate misses the point because WiFi and 3G should be viewed as complementary, rather than competing, wireless access methods. I’m a big fan of WiFi; for example it gives me better mobile coverage at home than my 3G service provider plus very cheap roaming coverage in specific locations when I’m away. As with the App Store, the iPhone has brought many more people into contact with something that used to be the preserve of mobile geeks – mobile WiFi.

3G mobile data (and its developments) is good but suffers from issues like flaky coverage, cell capacity constraints and backhaul bottlenecks. Public WiFi has coverage limitations but where it does work it generally delivers decent speeds and consistent service. The lack of roaming agreements between the big service providers is a frustration and I’d like to see a move towards ubiquitous coverage via more service provider co-operation, i.e. if you can find a signal you know you can use it, with service differentiation based around price, and value-adds.

Devicescape recently undertook some research into their user base to understand what WiFi users want from service providers and how people use WiFi. Key findings from the report showed:

  • An overwhelming number of WiFi users expect WiFi while on the road (91%)
  • Most respondents want citywide WiFi (84%) and many are willing to pay for it (56%)
  • When travelling, the most popular device for accessing WiFi was the smartphone, such as an iPhone (vs.laptops)
  • The overwhelming majority of smartphone users (81%) prefer using WiFi over 3G for browsing Web sites, downloading data, Google searches and sending e-mail
  • 86% of respondents want manufacturers to build WiFi into their handsets
  • 82% of respondents want the service provider to provide an overall 3G/WiFi data package

Whilst this research is focused on existing WiFi users it does show that people who already use WiFi don’t see 3G as an alternative wireless access method but as complementary to WiFi. I’ve blogged about Devicescape before; what they do is make WiFi access simple. Devicescape Easy Wi-Fi automates the hotspot login process to create a seamless user experience. Increasingly, this means Devicescape is hidden from the user and the service provider’s software uses Devicescape to manage the WiFi login process. DeFi Mobile uses this model and makes the hotspot login process fast and automatic. This simplicity addresses what has always been a barrier to simple WiFi use – the login process.

The next step for service providers is to create a completely seamless user experience across both 3G and WiFi. Users should not have to decide themselves which wireless access technology to use. The software should determine whether 3G or WiFi is appropriate. For the 3G service providers it makes sense to ship traffic via WiFi where they can, in order to preserve cell capacity for non WiFi users.

Mobile VoIP is an interesting but potentially very confusing (especially for Normobs) part of the WiFi market, so it’s good to see LowCostMob bringing some clarity here. Comparing mobile VoIP is a bit of a black art because each service provider has a slightly different take on the market and it’s not just a simple matter of comparing tariffs. Users need to compare functionality and features as well as prices to determine which service provider to use. Some clarity here will help to drive progress in this part of the WiFi market.

Jonathan’s also at Sevendotzero.

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  • Mike42

    “The overwhelming majority of smartphone users (81%) prefer using WiFi over 3G for browsing Web sites, downloading data, Google searches and sending e-mail”

    Well DUH. A survey from a company whos only customers are certified mobile WiFi geeks….

  • http://www.sevendotzero.com sevendotzero

    Sure, the survey respondents all use WiFi but they're also likely to have a 3G device so be in a position to compare the two wireless access methods.

    As I said 'The debate around WiFi versus 3G data is a contentious one that frequently provokes a frank exchange of views!'

  • Mike42

    My point being: this 81% figure is patent bollocks. Utter tripe. Nonsense.

    81% of smartphone owners probably haven't even used the internet on their mobiles, let alone used WiFi. If you said '81% of Devicescape customers [who by default use the internet, and 3G, and WiFi] prefer the [faster, free, in-house saturation coverage] WiFi over 3G [which is probably crap because they live in a brick bunker]' that would be more like it.

    As those 'results' stand, this 'research' is a classic example of a company that just happpens to sell WiFi management software deciding what results it wants, then going out and getting them.

    And to infer that such results paint a bright picture for non-home or work WiFi is therefore making a very, very self-serving argument.

    If I was a VC with some cash / a handset vendor presented with these 'results' I'd run a mile.

    /m

  • http://www.sevendotzero.com sevendotzero

    Mike. As I mentioned the survey was undertaken by Devicescape of their user base, so all respondents would be WiFi users. Therefore the smartphone users surveyed are all WiFi users. It's not suggesting that 81% of all smartphone users use WIFi.

    You mention the iPhone but what about other vendors? And I've been using Devicescape since long before the iPhone appeared on the scene.

  • Mike42

    Yeah, I get that. My point is they don't caveat their findings anywhere near enough.

    And are there any phones with WiFi that AREN'T 'smartphones' ?

    “The overwhelming majority of smartphone users (81%) prefer using WiFi over 3G”

    My rebuttal: NO, “The overwhelming majority of Devicescape customers (81%) prefer using WiFi over 3G”

    Major difference.

  • http://www.sevendotzero.com sevendotzero

    Hi Mike. I take your point. I think the key point is that the statement needs to be taken in context, i.e. as part of a survey of Devicescape users. As with all surveys context is key! Thanks for your comments. Out of interest, do you personally prefer 3G data to WiFi or do you use both when out & about?

  • South77

    The survey doesn't seem to hold much weight for the reason Mike42 mentions.

    But WiFi is usefull in a phone, obviously. Ask iPhone users, and then ask Storm users.

    Lot of mid range phones with pretensions to be smartphones are shipping without WiFi now. The assumption is that this is becauise the carriers presured the vendors into it, but there's lilkey to be a substantial segment of the market that will need or use WiFi.

  • Mike42

    Out = 3G.

    I've tried – lord have I tried – with WiFi. In hotels, conferences, cafe's, train stations, airports – the whole experience has been so appalling that after a while it just disappeared from my mental radar. 3G HSPA is more than quick enough for my needs, so WiFi, even when I was subscribed to several services via home and work broadband packages, just didn't even get bothered with.

    My iPhone is on my work and home WiFi. So's my N95 and G1. Great. But again, there's no business model there I can see.

  • http://www.sevendotzero.com sevendotzero

    Hi Mike. I take your point. I think the key point is that the statement needs to be taken in context, i.e. as part of a survey of Devicescape users. As with all surveys context is key! Thanks for your comments. Out of interest, do you personally prefer 3G data to WiFi or do you use both when out & about?

  • South77

    The survey doesn't seem to hold much weight for the reason Mike42 mentions.

    But WiFi is usefull in a phone, obviously. Ask iPhone users, and then ask Storm users.

    Lot of mid range phones with pretensions to be smartphones are shipping without WiFi now. The assumption is that this is because the carriers presured the vendors into it, but there's a substantial segment of the market that will never need or use WiFi.

  • Mike42

    Out = 3G.

    I've tried – lord have I tried – with WiFi. In hotels, conferences, cafe's, train stations, airports – the whole experience has been so appalling (even using Devicescape's service) that after a while it just disappeared from my mental radar. 3G HSPA is more than quick enough for my needs, so WiFi, even when I was subscribed to several services via home and work broadband packages, just didn't even get bothered with.

    My iPhone is on my work and home WiFi. So's my N95 and G1. Great. But again, there's no business model there I can see.

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