There’s likely to be a lot more Wi-Fi in your future. Telecom NZ’s hotspot network is part of a global trend towards carriers adding Wi-Fi data capacity.
Berg Insight, a Swedish research company says by 2018 there will be 15 million carrier operated Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide. That’s up from seven million at the end of last year.
Network operators around the world continue to add more capacity to meet rapidly growing demand for mobile data. In New Zealand, Telecom NZ, Vodafone and 2degrees will start using the 700 MHz spectrum to boost 4G capacity some time next year.
Even in relatively uncrowded countries like New Zealand, demand for mobile data often outstrips supply. One way carriers can compensate is by shuffling as much traffic as possible from 3G or 4G on to Wi-Fi networks.
Moving connections from cellular networks to Wi-Fi helps ease congestion in the busiest places. It’s also a cost effective move. Adding Wi-Fi capacity to an already-connected pay phone box is far cheaper than building another cell tower.
Here in New Zealand Telecom NZ can afford to be generous with its Wi-Fi network. Paying customers get the service for free and can download as much as 1GB a day. For most users this multiplies the amount of data they can use in a month 30-fold.
Adding Wi-Fi sites is also quicker. And there are few planning or consent requirements to worry about. Telecom NZ can get a new Wi-Fi site running almost overnight.
A report by the Wireless Broadband Alliance says that 22 percent of global new data capacity added between now and 2018 will be from Wi-Fi networks. The WBA describes these services as NGH or next-generation hotspots.
The report says in the last year carriers have moved from worrying mainly about offloading capacity to reduce congestion and are now focused on delivering better customer experiences and value.
This is where Telecom NZ is with its project. It is as much about giving users better value for their mobile dollar – and hence putting pressure on competitors – as it is about reducing congestion, which on the whole is less of a problem in New Zealand than elsewhere.
This is only the start of the Wi-Fi or NGH revolution. The WBA report says the real revolution begins when carriers integrate Wi-Fi with cellular data. So customers can move seamlessly from one network to the other. Technology already exist to make this possible, but has yet to be commercially deployed.
Two other things are important. Carriers are signing roaming deals so that travellers to other counties can user partner NGH networks. At the same time, hotspots are moving into crowded places like shopping malls and sports stadiums to handle heavy traffic loads.