When WiFi hotspots first started being deployed, the priority was hospitality venues (bars and restaurants, hotels etc.) where WiFi was marketed as an, often free, value added service. The growing appetite for data consumption, which is a result of the popularity of smartphones and tablets combined with the developing online culture, is stimulating interest at new types of venues from visitor attractions, museums and event venues, who are looking for a means of informing the public, to petrol stations, retail outlets and supermarkets who are looking for innovative ways to promote brands or products using videos, QR codes and/or location services.
In fact, the number of WiFi hotspots is set to more than triple by 2015 from 1.3 million in 2011, to 5.8 million by 2015, a 350% increase, according to research published by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).
In 2012 Trustive increased its WiFi network by adding another 200,000 premium WiFi hotspots in Europe, Brazil and China. This represents an increase of 60% and brings Trustive’s footprint to a total of 500,000 premium hotspots in 130 countries.
It is worth noting that Trustive does not include local household hotspots in its database (e.g. private hotspots where a separate WiFi channel is maintained by the operator for use by any of their customers who happen to be passing). Doing so can enable operators to advertise vast WiFi networks and theoretically be used as a means of offloading part of their domestic mobile traffic, but in reality such policies often simply result in confusion for users on the ground. Indeed, for the international commuters who make 340 million roaming trips each year, such hotspots are of little help.
Trustive’s priorities are:
• to integrate with hotspots in the most popular destinations worldwide,
• to prioritise premium venues such as hotels, conference centres, airports & urban hot zones,
• to provide a minimum level of secured access for commuters,
• to effectively manage Trustive’s 80+ partner operators in order to ensure the expected service level is maintained.
During 2012, Trustive’s traffic was concentrated in Europe (65%, which is normal for the number one WiFi operator in Europe!), but Latin America witnessed significant growth with 30% of Trustive’s overall traffic; the remainder was concentrated in Asia. In terms of venue popularity, 70% of Trustive sessions took place in hotels and convention centres where commuters regularly connected for more than three hours at a time and exchanged up to 12-14GB of data. 10% of sessions took place in airports and other travel hubs.
The evolution of WiFi
Trustive believes that the role of WiFi is evolving and moving away from simply being part of the hospitality business. Smartphones have become an open door to the world for consumers but in parallel, provide businesses with a direct link to active consumers. For example, in many cities public advertising is highly regulated and increasingly costly and Trustive is working with many retail brands, who are looking to use WiFi to communicate with consumers present in their immediate vicinity, either via the consumers own devices or via central displays.
Trustive also considers the involvement of local authorities to be very important in the evolution of the WiFi ecosystem. Local authorities are beginning to understand the importance of connectivity for visitors and are subsequently investing in the expansion of local WiFi networks, the installation of urban hot zones and the creation of connected cities. WiFi is also becoming an integral feature at event venues (such as stadiums) and its importance is also being recognised by some major operators who now incorporate it into their macro network strategy.
Managing WiFi access
Of course, with the consumer’s appetite for data consumption accelerating, WiFi access at premium venues has to be managed effectively and proactively. A best effort model is no longer enough, nor is it sufficient to advertise “free WiFi access” and then decide it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work because it’s free. In the near future, any space where people meet, even for short periods, will become a prime candidate for truly high-speed WiFi access services and businesses will be obliged to provide WiFi access for their customers.
WiFi carriers will have to respond in kind, evolving in order to provide a variety of business models above and beyond the traditional debate of free versus paid models. The costs associated with providing and managing a quality WiFi service can be supported via one the following options:
• The venue owner, who will then pass on this cost in the local service (coffee, meal, ticket or room charge etc.)
• The end user, who will purchase access upfront
• Sponsorship or advertisements
• A combination of these models
The abundance of WiFi hotspots should not in any way detract from the difficulty associated with accessing hotspots in Asia, Europe or Latin America 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.
In conclusion, Trustive believes that this momentum for roaming opportunities will continue to accelerate in the short to medium term due to:
• The expansion of WiFi into new venues, such as premium retail brands and visitor attractions.
• A world of devices where WiFi is the common denominator (your 3G smartphone is probably not compatible with 4G but all devices have WiFi).
• The improvement and automation of the WiFi user’s experience by using SIM card identification to access WiFi services abroad and across multiple operators.
However, in order to be considered a true “hot zone” and thereby preserve the credibility of the venue itself (and/or the WiFi operator), it is imperative that the basic WiFi service supplied be one of high quality.