Wi-Fi isn’t an offload play anymore

September 29th, 2014 by · Leave a Comment

This article was authored by John C. Tanner, and was originally posted on telecomasia.net.

One apparent side effect of the growing ubiquity of LTE is that Wi-Fi is becoming less essential as an offload platform to cope with soaring data traffic.

Kuan Moon Yuen, CEO of consumer Singapore at SingTel, remarked during a keynote speech at LTE Asia 2014 that 73% of SingTel customers use Wi-Fi to stream video, which creates an opportunity to bring them onto LTE, as Wi-Fi is actually a slower and best-effort experience compared to LTE.

“With the right incentives, consumers will switch to LTE for video streaming, and that gives us an opportunity to monetize that demand for video streaming,” he said.

That stated desire to bring Wi-Fi video traffic onto LTE is even more interesting as close to 65% of all SingTel’s mobile data traffic last year was already video, according to Yuen.

It’s an ironic shift in attitude towards Wi-Fi, which 3G operators initially embraced mainly as a way to offload heavy data usage from their mobile networks. Now, it seems, some LTE operators are looking for ways to bring that traffic back – or at least potentially monetizable traffic like video.

Yuen says that it’s the difference between best-effort video on Wi-Fi and high-quality managed video connectivity on LTE.

“In Singapore, we have free public Wi-Fi, but it’s not a managed network, so the experience is not very good,” he said. “LTE can provide a more consistent experience.”

That said, Yuen qualified his remarks in a follow-up CxO session, saying that the need for Wi-Fi offload will vary from market to market.

“Singapore may be different from Europe or the US or emerging markets,” he said. “In markets where you have spectrum constraints – maybe you only have a 10-MHz band – then maybe you have no choice but to use Wi-Fi to offload some traffic.

He added that a geographically small market like Singapore has less incentive to use Wi-Fi for offload because it’s relatively easier to provide blanket LTE coverage.

Patrick Scodeller, COO of M1, agreed that the role of Wi-Fi is changing. “In the early days it was about offload, but the customer experience of 4G is significantly better than unmanaged Wi-Fi. So the role is changing, hence the discussion around hetnets and how it’s all going to be integrated and so on.”

But he also agreed that won’t be the case in all markets: “One size doesn’t fit all.”

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