The near ubiquitous inclusion of Wi-Fi on smartphones ensures that this wireless technology is becoming a key component of forward-looking mobile service provider business strategy. Wi-Fi will likely support much of the data-intensive wireless traffic, but emerging applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) creates new challenges.
Wireless broadband subscriber demand has already driven changes in market development approaches. Mobile network operators are now increasingly relying upon public Wi-Fi hotspots to support their broader commercial goals and objectives.
According to the latest market study by ABI Research, they forecast that included within the massive global Wi-Fi coverage anticipated in 2020, at least 6 million public locations will support Hotspot 2.0 technologies and associated capabilities.
Although a number of mobile service providers have already upgraded, or committed to upgrade, their public Wi-Fi networks to support next generation Hotspot 2.0 technologies, the adoption remains slow at this time.
Initially, Hotspot 2.0 offered seamless discovery and access, which can potentially enhance the user experience and attract more engagement with the service offerings. Mobile network operators, however, still lack the service delivery platforms to generate revenue streams from this technology.
"Hotspot 2.0 will evolve to allow operators higher flexibility for supporting different policies, which in turn, will encourage implementation of innovative business models, and ultimately wider market adoption" said Ahmed Ali, research analyst at ABI Research.
ABI believes that the rise of IMS-enabled Wi-Fi voice-over-IP (VoIP) communication has boosted confidence in the upside potential for Wi-Fi voice service capabilities, and perhaps there's a much larger role for Wi-Fi technologies within current 4G and emerging 5G mobile networks.
Many mobile network operators that have deployed the technology in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and Hong Kong, have launched the service with VoLTE side by side, aiming for a complete seamless voice experience and driving the usage to five-fold by next year.
Migrating to the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is another top priority for mobile network operators -- with the primary use-case being hotspot capacity upgrades, in order to release or avoid congestion problems within public spaces.
Following the residential and enterprise Wi-Fi deployment pattern, now metro dual-mode access point shipments should rapidly grow to dominate a significant part of the mobile network vendor equipment marketplace.
"Overall, investment in carrier Wi-Fi solutions remains significant, despite the emergence of seemingly competing technologies like LTE-U and LAA. User demands as well as competition from other network operators -- such as cable companies -- drive market activity and business case creation," adds Ali.