Carriers — a euphemism for phone and cable companies — are known to hate any new technology that threatens their existing business models. For phone companies, it is always about getting back to billable minutes. For cable companies, it is all about charging more for the bundle and channels no one really watches. This group of reluctant technology adopters also hated Wi-Fi and fought it tooth-and-nail using all sorts of nasty tricks.
However, these days with growing mobile Internet demand carriers have embraced Wi-Fi, mostly because it allows them to offload traffic from their mobile networks to Wi-Fi networks. So much so, they are now building out their Wi-Fi infrastructure at a rapid clip. Every cable company and every phone company are rolling out Wi-Fi Nets. European phone companies such as Free and Orange have been ahead of the curve.
According to a new research report by Berg Insight, a Gothenburg, Sweden-based market research company, telecom operators had deployed more than 7 million carrier-grade Wi-Fi access points worldwide at the end of 2012. By 2018, that number is going to more than double to about 15 million units, Berg Insight forecasts. Stacey Higginbotham in her 2013 forecast predicted that 2013 will be the year when carriers make up their mind about Wi-Fi, and it seems they have. We have seen many cable companies like Cox launch their own networks. AT&T too has expanded its Wi-Fi footprint. The trend is gaining momentum across the world.
In an interview with GigaOM, Ericsson’s CEO had noted that Wi-Fi would become standard feature in its small cell gear, which is going to help with the growth of carrier Wi-Fi even more.
As carriers start to build out these networks, it makes sense for companies to figure out how to do seamless roaming. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s Hotspot 2.0 and the Wireless Broadband Alliance Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) program should help with the roaming and use of Wi-Fi on handsets. For now, the ideal way to use Wi-Fi when traveling is either Boingo or iPass. I personally use Boingo and don’t leave home without it. I have found that while it isn’t the perfect solution, it is damn near close to the only way to deal with the complex, arcane and often frustrating world of commercial Wi-Fi networks.
Recommended reading: Who’s your new mobile carrier? how about WiFi.