2degrees has begun a WiFi trial in central Wellington.
The company says it has invited 20,000 customers to take part in a three-month trial starting today. If the trial succeeds, it will be a blueprint for other parts of the country. 2degrees talks of a possible commercial WiFi network.
Unlike Telecom NZ’s hotspot-based WiFi network, which is by its nature patchy, 2degrees WiFi offers blanket coverage in the area from Wellington Railway station to the end of Courtney Place. It also covers Westpac Stadium and the Zoo.
Carrier WiFi — wireless internet access delivered by phone companies — is a huge deal around the world. The English city of Birmingham has 65,000 British Telecom hotspots.
Wi-Fi is popular. A UK survey found that more than half the people polled prefer Wi-Fi to 3G or 4G mobile and deliberately seek hotspots while on the move. The Economist reports WiFi data traffic is growing at 78 percent a year.
Offering widespread WiFi could be the much-needed circuit-breaker for 2degrees, which has managed to win a respectable slice of New Zealand mobile customers without, so far, healthy profits.
Telecom NZ has successfully used its WiFi service to stake out a market position. By delivering a different, potentially more useful, form of Wi-Fi, 2degrees may be able to differentiate itself from the competition in a way that appeals to mobile workers with heavy data needs.
Meanwhile carriers and equipment makers continue to search for ways to move smoothly between WiFi and 4G networks. It’s a technically daunting task, but a number of industry players hint it will soon be practical.