A centralised Wifi marketplace could revolutionise mobile data usage

18 September 2018 | Dan Klaeren

Dan Klaeren

Blog Author | senior product management director, Syniverse

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These days, it seems the only thing more important to travellers than their wifi access is the suitcase containing their clothes.

As consistent, high-speed mobile connectivity has become a must for people on the go, wifi availability has expanded from business offices, to retail outlets, to hotels, to everywhere in between – even airplanes.

However, a new approach may soon transform the way that wifi is purchased and sold. The marketplace approach promises a new way to optimise the management of a process that up to now has been cumbersome and inconsistent.

It could not only offer a new opportunity to spur usage and increase customer satisfaction, but also provide a critical cost-efficiency to many companies as they begin to migrate their operations to the internet of things (IoT). Here’s how.

Wifi by the numbers

First, a look at the market. wifi has been around a while, but the increase in its projected use in the next few years is staggering. According to the Cisco 2017 Mobile Visual Networking Index Forecast, by 2020, wifi traffic will represent about three times as much as mobile data traffic.

What’s more, total public wifi hotspots (including home hotspots) will grow sixfold from 2016 to 2021, from 94 million to 541 million.

Yet, tapping this opportunity has so far not been easy.

Market challenges

On the upside, there is an ample supply of networks globally. The technology to enable seamless wifi roaming between partners is also readily available. And today’s tech-savvy consumers are well-versed in how to connect their phone or laptop to a nearby wifi hotspot quickly and easily.

Furthermore, there are a number of business incentives for operators and companies to offer wifi roaming access to their customers, either as a free value-added service or as an extra revenue source.

But despite these favourable conditions, wifi roaming has still not reached its full potential because of a single business challenge: wholesale wifi procurement continues to be unnecessarily difficult.

Among other challenges, the process for establishing a successful bilateral agreement between sellers and buyers is currently a long and painstaking process that can sometimes take up to a year to complete. This is the result of a number of technical, business, financial and legal steps that have to be resolved.

The marketplace approach

It doesn’t have to be like this. For operators and service providers to fully benefit from wifi, it’s high time to automate and streamline the entire procurement process at the wholesale level.

The marketplace approach offers a way forward with this. It’s built around a centralised hub that’s designed for telcos, service providers, and other businesses to consolidate all their searching and vetting of prospective partners into a single user-friendly process. With this one-stop shop, they’re able to buy and sell wifi with the click of just a few buttons.

The idea is to eliminate much of the cumbersome back-and-forth involved with managing wholesale agreements. Too often, sellers and buyers have to navigate the intricacies of determining coverage, pricing, legal requirements, and technical specifications, among several other areas.

Benefits for buyers and sellers

Even though the marketplace approach is only in its early stages, a process like this that allows the automation of the procurement process through a single, secure centralised hub. This in turn offers immediate benefits to sellers and buyers of wifi alike.

A seller gains access to a global audience of prospective buyers that need to purchase the seller’s service quickly and easily. Although many mobile operators have embraced wifi as a means to address coverage gaps and congestion, or lower roaming costs while providing high-quality connectivity to their consumers, it can be overly challenging to find and negotiate with potential partners.

The marketplace approach offers a centralised location for an operator to visually assess the coverage of the proposed wifi operator, understand its capabilities, and learn about its standard terms in a matter of seconds. This enables an operator to find the coverage it truly desires and the partners that can provide it - reducing time, lowering cost, and increasing time to market.

Likewise, for buyers, a single central, automated marketplace can simplify and speed up every step of the process – not only procurement, but connectivity, finance and roaming agreements. The buyer can choose a supplier, complete an agreement, and bring their wifi service to market more quickly than is possible now.

Paving the way for the IoT

Beyond sellers and buyers, the marketplace approach offers the benefit of enabling access and interactivity with previously unreachable partners to support the creation of new IoT application and services globally.

In fact, according to data from Maravedis, Rethink Research, and the Wireless Broadband Alliance, 67% of mobile operators and 78% of cable companies expect to use wifi to support their Internet of Things (IoT) services by 2020.

Additionally, wifi is expected to be widely used as a cost-effective mobile offload mechanism for IoT applications since cellular connectivity for IoT devices and services can be costly. For example, some IoT devices going into service today can use up an amount like a 5 GB monthly plan in less than a day. This points to a critical need for a more affordable means of connectivity.

Wifi’s future

Wifi will only continue to soar as a source of connectivity in the next few years. The development of a marketplace approach promises to drive usage and increase customer satisfaction, and also provides a critical cost-efficiency as many company operations start to be migrated to the IoT. This is an exciting future that providers and consumers - as well as IoT-enabled businesses - should look forward to.