Wi-Fi Analytics for a Changing Operator Landscape
The ubiquity of Wi-Fi is making the introduction of new voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) services an inevitable reality. Different operators, however, see VoWi-Fi quite differently based upon their existing coverage map, and their strategy for success in the face of increasing industry consolidation. Some see VoWi-Fi as an important way to increase coverage. Others see it as a sure-fire way to reduce current data revenue. In either case, understanding how Wi-Fi is used at the network edge and from the device perspective will give operators an edge as they plan for new services.
Pure-play mobile operators - those who focus only on offering mobile services - have a love-hate relationship with Wi-Fi. On one hand, because many have ceased offering unlimited data plans, and because Wi-Fi off-loads cellular data usage, it provides consumers with an alternative that reduces the amount of paid data consumed over the cellular network. Operators with strong coverage in small geographical areas, for example, Singtel in Singapore, might therefore see Wi-Fi as direct competition to cellular data revenue. But on the other hand, operators that are striving to improve coverage across large geographic areas, perhaps Sprint or T-Mobile in North America, might choose to rely upon unmanaged or managed Wi-Fi to extend that coverage at very low cost.
Understanding Wi-Fi from the Device Perspective
In either of the above cases, using Wi-Fi to route and off-load cellular traffic raises important questions that can be answered by sourcing telemetry directly from consumer devices:
- Where are the pockets of weak cellular coverage that could benefit from Wi-Fi off-load?
- When do the pockets of weak cellular coverage occur?
- In every block of a city, how effectively do subscribers offload to Wi-Fi as compared with competitors?
- What percentage of time do devices have no indoor cellular coverage?
- How often do devices attempt to make calls where cellular is the only available connectivity service?
- Where and how often are devices offloading to Wi-Fi when the cellular network is otherwise able to provide good coverage and capacity?
Understanding the answers to these questions helps operators achieve the benefits of additional coverage via Wi-Fi while at the same time, managing the potential revenue loss that might result from offloading 3G/4G networks.
Wi-Fi in Multi-Play Services
Consolidation in the Telecommunications sector has driven increased use of “multi-play” offerings that combine voice, data, Wi-Fi, TV, and other services. Multi-play services create added complexity and burdens on networks. Operators that deliver these services want to leverage the Wi-Fi access points under their control in order to maximize value.
For example, BT FON has about 5 to 6 million managed access points and recently announced support of voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi). AT&T has 97% of its customers subscribing to bundled services. British Telecom plans to re-enter the mobile market by buying Everything Everywhere. Vodafone bought Cable & Wireless in the U.K., Ono in Spain and Hellas in Greece. SK Telecom is buying out the rest of SK Broadband that it does not own. Even small mobile operator C Spire in the U.S. is buying MegaGate Broadband. For these operators that are undergoing consolidation, Wi-Fi services provide more than an inexpensive way to add coverage. They are crucial to delivering a superior overall customer experience. Therefore, instead of offloading for coverage reasons, these operators increasingly want to offload to Wi-Fi wherever and whenever it can deliver better experiences to customers. For voice services, this requires tighter coordination between cellular networks and managed Wi-Fi networks in order to allow seamless service transfer.
Multi-play operators may be interested in answering the following Wi-Fi questions:
- In every block of a city, what percentage of time do devices have access to both my managed Wi-Fi and other unmanaged Wi-Fi access points?
- At any location, what percentage of time could devices have offloaded to managed Wi-Fi where they did not?
- What percentage of time could subscribers have used cellular service at higher quality, but instead remained on an offloaded Wi-Fi network?
- What is the voice call delay during a transition from VoWi-Fi to VoLTE, or vice versa?
Consolidation of cable/broadband operators
As consumers are turning off fixed-line voice services in favor of mobile, some broadband operators believe that Wi-Fi calling has great potential to retain voice customers. Wi-Fi calling from over the top providers such as Skype is nothing new, but consumers must download mobile applications to make calls. Over time, and if smartphone industry practices repeat as usual, it is only a matter of time before the majority of phones support VoWi-Fi within the embedded dialer application. When this occurs, using Wi-Fi to make calls will become increasingly non-disruptive to consumers, the use of VoWi-Fi services will go up, and broadband operators will have a market tailwind as they promote their VoWi-Fi services. As industry consolidation continues, the number of combined Wi-Fi access points within merged operators, and hence their total coverage areas, will increase, making VoWi-Fi services even more attractive to consumers.
Broadband operators may be interested in answers to some key Wi-Fi questions:
- How many cellular calls are made in the vicinity of Wi-Fi access points using VoWi-Fi capable phones?
- How many calls are originated indoors that always stay indoors?
- Which operators have the weakest cellular coverage in areas that are in the vicinity of Wi-Fi access points?
Wi-Fi is undoubtedly the common technology on which operators across all categories place emphasis. Continued operator consolidation will affect both the strategy and priority of Wi-Fi. Carrier iQ offers a strong portfolio of Wi-Fi analytics and can help operators make better strategic decisions at any stage of their consolidation cycles.