To Wi-Fi? Or not to Wi-Fi?


Where are you getting the best connectivity?

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?

4 Comments

  1. Posted July 12, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    WiFi are best if we use it at Home/Work. Using public WiFi involves a lot of security issues.
    But really liked the idea of ISPs coming forward and install WiFi hotspots which will be maintained by ISPs itself. And should charge consumers by ‘Pay as you use’ type!

  2. Tali Dulin
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    Interesting. In Tel Aviv most Wifi spots (cafes, malls, hospitals) are free and pretty easy to link into… and i use this a lot to browse on the ipad mainly as the BB is so poor for browsing. But for staying connected (emails, etc) I still rely on cell network.

  3. Posted July 15, 2012 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Tali,

    It seems like different people have different experiences.
    Just this weekend I couldn’t connect to an open, free, public Wi-Fi hotspot. After a few minutes of trying I simply decided to pass and continue using 3G instead.

  4. Liran Ravid
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    2 comments in favour of Wi-Fi…:

    The usage pattern of Cellular Data Vs. Wi-Fi is completly changing once you are roaming. When I’m roaming I’m becoming a heavy Wi-Fi user. I actually don’t use the Cellular data connection at all due to its unreasonable costs.
    Moreover, with Ipassconect app, I can connect my smartphone to many secured Wi-Fi’s which are on the ipass network.

    Another thing to consider is the emergence of 802.11u. This standard transforms Wi-Fi to a strategic investment of service providers!
    802.11u is part of bigger initiative called Hotspot 2.0 (or Next-Generation hotspot), which aims to make WiFi as secure and easy to use as mobile. 802.11u enhances the WiFi standards (802.11a/b/g/n) with additional capabilities, mainly to simplify the authentication mechanism of WiFi networks (which makes the connection to WiFi as simple as connecting to a cellular network when you are roaming). This is combined with additional standards to address WiFi security, QoS and even mobility.
    So it solves many of the issues with existing WiFi that you have mentioned.

    802.11u is paving the road to use WiFi as a mobile network extension. From Service Providers point of view this is another technological piece that allows for (1) reducing mobile network costs (2) generating new revenues from WiFi netorks.

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