WiFi offload: who cares?

WiFi offload: who cares?

Steve Shaw

Philip Johnston

Steve Shaw, vice president of corporate marketing for Kineto Wireless, discusses how mobile operators can offload data and make customers more than happy.

People don’t care about offload.
 
Within the mobile industry, data offload has become a main topic of conversation.  Subscribers are using ever-increasing amounts of data on their smartphones, tablets and laptops, which is fabulous, until the networks beg for mercy and people can’t use their smartphones in the way the want.

That is becoming increasingly common.
 
Still, people aren’t clamouring for offload. They just want service. It’s the operators that need offload to manage these growing demands.

The fact is, operators need alternative approaches (networks, technologies, business models) to mitigate the effects of all this data usage. Consumers understand quality of experience, they understand pricing, they understand incentives; but fundamentally subscribers don’t care about offload.

 
Operators are left trying to figure out how to lighten the network load in a way that provides the best customer experience, while reaping the greatest operational benefit. But like getting a child to eat their vegetables, it’s possible to wrap ‘offload’ with a range of incentives that encourage desired subscriber behaviour, while delivering the necessary results. 
 

Why WiFi?

The most important aspect of WiFi is its massive installed base. More than 60% of homes with broadband connectivity already have WiFi installed today. With just under 20 million broadband connections in the UK, it’s clear there is a ready-made network solution for offloading mobile Internet traffic indoors.

T-Mobile US reports the average data use on its flagship smartphones averages more than 1GB per month. However, individuals spend 50% to 66% of their online time in just two locations; at home and in the office, two places typically blanketed by high quality, low cost WiFi.

According to a recent YouGov survey commissioned by Kineto, 50% of smartphone users use WiFi on their smartphones because it is “easier for accessing the internet” than the macro network. 

So many subscribers are turning to WiFi to improve their quality of experience. But basic WiFi for offload is just that – basic – and has many limitations.  

 

Changing behaviour

Operators need to be clever about the way in which they force the ‘offload’ issue. Mobile providers are realising that offload is not a top-of-mind issue for subscribers, so they can’t just advertise offload and expect to win people over.

Rather, operators must offer subscribers tangible benefits in order to incentivise offload. This can be done by offering people what they want; lower costs and an enhanced experience.

One option is turning to WiFi to deliver improved mobile coverage. With the majority of subscribers using their phones indoors, both at their homes and in their offices, offering subscribers an application to boost their mobile signal via WiFi resonates well. 

By enhancing the existing basic WiFi connections and offering a smarter way to use it – Smart WiFi – operators can encourage use, increase the amount of traffic going over WiFi networks, relieve the macro network and provide a new solution to their subscribers.

In the same YouGov survey, 74% of smartphone users in the UK said they would be interested or very interested in an application which would give them ‘five bars’ of mobile coverage using the WiFi in their homes or offices. 

One operator in the UK suggested that nearly one in five of its subscribers experience poor or no coverage in their home. In addition, coverage was cited as the predominate reason why consumers churn. 

 

WiFi coverage

By providing a WiFi coverage solution, operators are able to incentivise WiFi usage, reap the benefits of WiFi offload, and deliver an improved coverage solution which ultimately reduces churn. 

In addition to an indoor coverage boost, operators can incentivise offload by offering subscribers cost-savings. Not all subscribers suffer from poor indoor coverage, and by offering reduced or free calling over WiFi, operators can ensure they appeal to every subscriber. With two thirds of data usage happening within range of WiFi, service providers can benefit by giving their users a pricing incentive to turn on, and leave on, WiFi. 

T-Mobile US has been successful doing just this. It has embraced the importance of incentivising offload and currently offers subscribers direct incentives through its Wi-Fi Calling service. T-Mobile has nearly six million smartphones in the field enabled with its WiFi Calling service. 

More than 50% of T-Mobile’s handset portfolio supports WiFi Calling, and the company recently announced that it logs 40 million WiFi calls each month. The service, powered by Smart WiFi, gives subscribers the incentive they need to use WiFi and delivers unmatched offload benefit for T-Mobile.

Rather than complaining about data caps or macro network performance, end users are lauding T-Mobile’s service with comments like “I live & die by WiFi Calling;” “No signal! WiFi Calling saves the day!” and “Thank you T-Mobile for [WiFi Calling], I love it and you.”

 

Conclusion

Operators invest millions to optimise their network infrastructures to improve the performance of mobile services when less expensive and time consuming technologies that alleviate network strain are embedded in the very devices causing the problem.

To address this immediate problem that will only become exasperated with the introduction of 3.9 generation networks, operators need to utilise existing WiFi and treat it as an immediate and significant fix to a very large problem. And subscribers still don’t have to care about offload.

Kineto Wireless is an innovator and  supplier of standards-based smart WiFi solutions. The company provides software and services to major wireless infrastructure and handset vendors so they can turn WiFi into a seamless extension of the mobile network.