Monday, October 22, 2012

Carrier WiFi Offload - Some Thoughts - Part 2

In Part 1, Verizon Wireless and AT&T were discussed. To summarize, AT&T has good depth in hotspot/hotzone assets that formulate their WiFi data offload strategy.  Verizon Wireless on the other hand does not have any assets and currently partners in a white label fashion with Boingo to offer WiFi access as a benefit for mobile broadband customers. Therefore, Verizon Wireless does not really have a WiFi offload strategy (aside from some stadium/convention center WiFi buildouts to save its cellular network).  That can change possibly with a potential CableWiFi partnership.Now onto the other Tier 1 carriers.

Sprint: Sprint currently doesn't have a WiFi offload strategy. They do not own any WiFi assets and like many carriers, encourage their subscribers to use WiFi with the smartphone WiFi feature.  Sprint got out of the WiFi game in 2007 with the sale of some airport assets to Boingo. Given that one would expect a WiFi relationship like Verizon Wireless'.

Yet Sprint's unlimited data proposition, its background Clearwire WiMAX flate-rate wholesale deal, and tenuous financial state at the time may have negated a need for a WiFi partner. Going forward, it remains to be seen if WiFi is a necessary strategy component given the pending SoftBank deal and Sprint's majority control of Clearwire (use more 2.5 GHz bandwidth for capacity and speed).  It now for the most part has owners economics in furthering the unlimited data proposition. Aside from the broader Network Vision sites, small cells and/or distributed antenna systems are likely going to be deployed to help with meeting subscriber capacity issues. Nevertheless, the wild card is Boingo and its strategic WiFi provider partnership with the Competitive Carrier Association or CCA (which Sprint is a member).

T-Mobile: Similar to AT&T, this carrier owns its share of WiFi hotspots.  Though the numbers are much smaller, they do at least provide a wholesale and direct to subscriber revenue opportunities. T-Mobile's WiFi strategy foundation was also based on supplementing the lack of cellular coverage and then building services such as Unlimited Hotspot Calling and Hotspot@Home.   

Unlimited Hotspot calling also addressed adding additional calling minutes. Not that it makes a difference today, a WiFi calling feature is a popular feature for globetrotters as a free alternative to paying for global voice roaming rates, provided there is WiFi access. 

When AT&T purchased Waypoint, it grabbed the Starbucks contract from T-Mobile. But as anyone knows who frequents that coffee chain, the WiFi is free and clear.  T-Mobile still has WiFi presence in airports and hotels. Some can argue that it provides a dual benefit. The direct to consumer WiFi allows for the company to opportunistically address the tablet/laptop user who must have a WiFi connection. With hourly, weekly or monthly plans (and global roaming), T-Mobile no doubt eeks out some revenue from this line of business.  With this and the lack of substantial WiFi hotspot assets, carrier offload is not a the core of its WiFi strategy.  As with Sprint, Boingo is a wildcard for T-Mobile (as a member of CCA) to embrace since.   

As stated, Boingo is a possible resource to tap for carriers to expand a WiFi offering but Boingo is a WiFi aggregator (cobbling smaller players like hotels, motels, RV campgrounds, independent coffee shops, etc.) with limited WiFi assets (mostly in airports). The issue for Boingo is how they can bring substantial domestic WiFi hotspots to the table without outlaying any CapEx.