If mobile operators are going to make Wi-Fi a key part of their data strategies, they might as well go big, generating enormous amount of offload capacity they can not only use to relieve their beleaguered 3G and 4G networks but also sell to their partners – at least that’s what metro Wi-Fi equipment dealer BelAir Networks proposes.
BelAir today took the cover off of a new set of Wi-Fi controllers designed to scale metro networks into hundreds of thousands of access points, delivering far more capacity than even the operators’ most data-hungry customers can consume. Operators can then take that excess capacity and sell it to their mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partners, ISPs, third-party hotspot providers, even their competitors if they choose, said Ronny Haraldsvik, chief marketing officer at BelAir.
Sharing Wi-Fi access points certainly isn’t a new concept, as operators augment their networks with capacity from hotspot aggregators worldwide such as Boingo (s wifi) and iPass (s ipas). But BelAir proposes to reverse the business model. Rather than rely on the existing network of coffee shops, convention centers and airports — which aren’t the only places mobile operators need capacity — they can build outdoor and indoor networks focused on where their customers consume the most mobile data. Operators can then turn around and sell excess capacity to whoever wants it, whether its Boingo looking to expand its footprint or Cablevision (s cvc) looking to bulk up its free Wi-Fi service for cable broadband customers. Operators could even become wireless ISPs, selling metro Wi-Fi connectivity to those iPad (s aapl) and Android (s goog) tablet customers who aren’t buying the 3G and 4G services they’re selling. Carriers resell voice and data all the time to other operators in the form of wholesale partnerships and roaming agreements. Why not do the same with Wi-Fi?