Those of you with a smartphone, here’s a question for you: do you think you consume more data over Wi-Fi than you do over 3G or LTE?
My guess is the answer is probably going to be “yes”.
So does that mean we need to deploy more Wi-Fi hotspots than we should invest in LTE?
Here’s one school of thought:
“If the idea is to build ubiquitous networks offering plentiful and cheap data, then carriers and governments should pursue the cheapest and most efficient technologies, which in most cases isn’t cellular infrastructure.” [From Kevin Fitchard's new GigaOm blog article ]
Fitchard was conveying the argument being put forward in a new paper about unlicensed spectrum (Wi-Fi) in which former Ofcom economist Richard Thanki suggests that the wireless industry and its regulators have got their priorities all wrong.
But this argument doesn’t make sense to me: I use Wi-Fi both at home and at work, and that’s about it, (and there are quite a few reasons why:)
* Poor Wi-Fi coverage in the places I go to
* Signing on to Wi-Fi networks can be time consuming and difficult
* Open Wi-Fi networks come with potential security risks
* Wi-Fi signals are sometimes too weak to offer good enough connectivity, or else you just can’t get into the Internet once connected due to other technical reasons
* Wi-Fi breaks down at large conferences because there are too many people trying to connect to it, reducing usability to zero
* When on the go, there’s no way to maintain a signal over Wi-Fi
And when I’m travelling abroad, the situation tends to be even more frustrating, with Wi-Fi only available for me about 10% of the time. But on the other hand, wherever I am (with the exception of the underground parking lot in my building), there is 3G data connectivity.
What we need are better networks: fiber to the home, with 1 Gigabit bandwidth; better Wi-Fi coverage in shopping malls and other densely populated venues; and faster and better mobile cellular networks.
I already have reasonable Wi-Fi coverage (as I said earlier, it’s the only data network I use when at home and in the office). And at other times – whether I’m commuting, attending meetings out of the office, in the doctor’s waiting room, or in the supermarket – I rely on the cellular network.
Somehow, I can’t see that changing. Can you?