- Just a few hundred thousand commuters rely on WiFi today, but the number of potential roamers numbers 340 million according to the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s last report.
- Continued trend towards multiple devices with an average of 3 devices per user.
- Shift from laptop usage towards a reliance on smartphones (45%), laptops and notebooks (50%) and tablets (5%)
- New usage patterns show a move away from traditional emails and surfing towards cloud computing, VoIP and conference calling (Skype), video streaming, online applications and the real-time sharing of photos and videos with online communities, particularly via GoPro or smartphones (using WiFi).
- Higher speed broadband access is essential for new devices and in particular more upstream bandwidth is needed to facilitate the sharing of photos and videos in real-time during events.
- WiFi access with its inherent speed, security and cost manageability is the only alternative to restrictive 3G services: network saturation in crowded areas or at peak times, lack of 3G/4G coverage and lack of acceptable international data plans.
Traffic and devices
Trustive’s network traffic has increased by 100% between 2011 and 2012, whilst its WiFi footprint has increased by 60% to include 500,000 premium hotspots in 130 countries. In 2012, Trustive’s traffic was concentrated in Europe (65%) and Latin America (30%). This significant increase in traffic is the result of:
1.) Evolution of mobile usage from voice centric to data centric
With mobile usage evolving away from voice and towards data traffic, Trustive continues to see increases in WiFi usage, particularly in Europe where consumers are plagued by 3G data plan restrictions, saturated networks and high prices.
Trustive aims to provide travellers with premium WiFi coverage whenever and wherever they need it in order to offer a viable mobile internet data access solution. Trustive therefore plans to concentrate on developing its premium WiFi network in Latin America and particularly in Brazil (in preparation for the upcoming 2014 Football World Cup and the Olympic Games in 2016) as well as to optimise its existing European network.
2.) Multiple devices become the norm and commuters grow to rely more on smartphones (45%) and tablets (5%).
In previous years, Trustive has responded to customer demand by allowing customers to use their WiFi passes on multiple devices. Pre 2010, the norm was one device, usually a laptop. In 2012 Trustive observed a significant evolution in usage with an average of 3 devices per user, a pattern which has also been observed by some of our partners. In 2012, commuters travelled with smartphones (45%), laptops/notebooks (50%) and tablets (5%).
There is strong interest from the OTT (Over The Top) companies such as Skype, Facebook, YouTube and others for viable mobile data and WiFi solutions. Some of these applications are banned by operators when you travel. Skype calls or video communications are possible via WiFi at very low costs, which is appropriate when you are far away. With the rise of WebRTC, which allows voice and video calling directly from browser to browser, another boost in traffic is a real possibility.
As people are becoming more and more addicted to mobile data (through their apps and social networks) and the concept of “Bring Your Own Device” grows in popularity, WiFi usage now reflects a real mix of business and leisure activities. Emails are just one aspect of a spectrum that now includes video streaming, social networks, online games, Skype conference calls, and now the uploading of photos and/or videos to share in real-time on the net, particularly during events.
The average length of a WiFi session in 2012 was around 50 minutes with an average exchange of 70MB per session. On one side, Trustive witnessed the average Skype session lasting just 12 minutes, with an average data exchange of 11MB. On the other hand, WiFi usage in some of Trustive’s hotel venues, where video streaming is of course very popular, could easily register 300MB in just 10 minutes. In fact, Trustive’s hotel venues alone have seen a jump in the average data consumption per session between 2011 and 2012 of 68%.
At the most extreme end of the scale, Trustive has recorded WiFi sessions ranging from 2 to more than 7 hours, with a data exchange of 12 to 14GB per session. Such sessions were observed at premium Trustive hotspots (mainly hotels and conference centres) where location, high speed broadband, security and quality management are key. Whilst extreme by current standards, Trustive considers such sessions to be indicative of how the users’ growing appetite for data consumption will transform WiFi in the future.
Imagine the price of such 3G data sessions abroad!
During 2012, commuters downloaded an average of 60MB per session and uploaded an average of 10MB. However, the trend to share photos and/or videos with friends in real-time via social networks is changing this pattern already.
It is relatively easy to foresee the balance of traffic in the short to medium term, with serious increases in the uploading of data (due to the sharing of photos and videos during events for example); similar observations have been reported during the Super Bowl and the London Olympics. Trustive has great presence and traffic in Brazil and therefore expects to see serious growth in this region during the upcoming Football World Cup and Olympic games.
Lessons learned from 3G
Cellular networks offer seamless access, generally good coverage and handover. However when it comes to low density or high density areas, users face issues such as lack of coverage or saturation of bandwidth.
In central London or central Paris, it is common for users to gravitate towards bars or cafés in order to take advantage of their WiFi access because the 3G network is saturated. In the countryside there is the EDGE signal but then users face the same issue.
In addition, commuters worry about their data plans. They have been briefed by domestic operators to conscientiously switch off their smartphones’ data roaming capabilities the moment they cross the border in order to avoid outrageous international data roaming prices and subsequently, the nasty surprise of an expensive invoice upon their return home.
Economic pressure is forcing commuters to travel more and further afield in order to find new customers. The shift towards smartphones, tablets and accessing data in the “cloud” implies a need for more bandwidth at a reasonable cost and budget control wherever the commuter may be.
The reality is that mobile costs are significant. A trip may combine costs for access via multiple devices, involve domestic and/or international mobile data plans, the purchase of WiFi day passes at the different venues and travel hubs visited, all of which will be charged at different rates and potentially in different currencies. On top of the associated costs, there are several barriers to the adoption of public WiFi hotspots, such as authentication procedures, discovery of available networks and security. One UK operator recently reported that only 20% of its users access the free public hotspots available to them.
WiFi growth and the associated challenges
According to Informa Telecoms and media, the number of WiFi hotspots in public areas is set to more than triple by 2015, to reach a predicted 5.8 million.
The abundance of WiFi hotspots should not in any way detract from the difficulty associated with accessing hotspots in Asia and Europe due to multiple portal designs in different languages and the local implementation and interpretation of standards.
Seamless access which simplifies the user experience through a single and secure login for multiple devices, cost and budget control are all clear requirements addressed to Trustive and to mobile operators, to be fulfilled through clear a roaming plan and simple tools to connect.
This is why Trustive considers roaming to be a true opportunity in the immediate future. Although there are 340 million roaming trips per year, the number of users that make use of international WiFi is in the region of a few hundred thousand. This constitutes a major missed monetization opportunity for the present WiFi ecosystem.