It’s only February, but it seems that 2016 is shaping up to be a big year for Wi-Fi.

From the rapid proliferation of Wi-Fi hotspots across the globe to the fierce debate about LTE-U and Wi-Fi compatibility, unlicensed spectrum just can’t stay out of the headlines.

For a quick rundown on the big Wi-Fi-related topics, Wireless Week connected with iPass CEO Gary Griffiths to get his thoughts on where Wi-Fi is and where it’s headed.

iPass CEO Gary Griffiths

Wireless Week: How will the entrance of outside tech giants like Microsoft and Google into the MVNO space impact traditional wireless carriers? How does Wi-Fi change the game? What does Wi-Fi offer that traditional cellular service doesn’t?

Gary Griffiths: The entrance of tech giants like Google and Microsoft as virtual mobile network operators was inevitable, as traditional lines between Internet, software and telecommunications have blurred to the point of insignificance.

We live in a world where having connectivity everywhere - 24/7 is not optional.  Those who have made investments in enabling mobile technologies, especially the carriers, will benefit in the growth of traffic generating by the proliferation of MNVOs. This of course will continue to drive prices down, while at the same time giving consumers a broader range of choices. Wi-Fi, of course, plays a key role in this new ecosystem as an affordable and easily deployed connectivity media that is poised for continued accelerating growth. 

Wireless Week: How will Wi-Fi manage to accommodate the growing need for capacity and connectivity?

Griffiths: Since Wi-Fi operates in unlicensed spectrum, the barriers to entry are minimal, allowing continued rapid expansion in the availability, while new standards being adopted address traditional concerns of authentication and security. Meanwhile, initiatives like Globalstar's TPLS promise uncluttered new capacity in a previously unexplored spectrum know as Channel 14. 

Wireless Week: There’s been some controversy over LTE-U, but a recent Qualcomm demonstration showed that LTE-U can equitably share the airwaves with Wi-Fi and perhaps even use the bands more efficiently. What are your thoughts on LTE-U’s interaction with Wi-Fi? What benefits and challenges do you see in implementing LTE-U? Are there any advantages to Wi-Fi over LTE-U? Vice versa?

Griffiths:  Technology never stands still. As long as there is demand, new technologies will emerge offering consumers faster and more affordable and reliable options than the previous generation. Mobile connectivity is no exception. The winners in the future of mobile connectivity will not be the ones who bet on any single medium, but instead create ways to manage connections for users, dynamically finding the optimum connection in terms of performance, cost, quality and the needs of the individual user. As technologies emerge to address the insatiable demand for connectivity, Wi-Fi will continue to enjoy the benefits of ubiquity, low barriers to entry and compatibility without requiring a SIM. LTE-U still has regulatory issues to overcome, as well as resistance from entrenched incumbents, who may be threatened by the encroachment of LTE in the unlicensed space. In the end, the consumer will be the beneficiary. 

Wireless Week: What sort of regulatory challenges do you foresee for Wi-Fi going forward?

Griffiths: Wi-Fi enjoyed an advantage operating in unlicensed space, making it a technology less encumbered by regulatory weight. That said, the previously mentioned TLPS, which will open up a broad new channel of uncluttered Wi-Fi, has been struggling for months to gain approval from the FCC and, if and when successful, will need to endure a similar approval process with the EU regulatory bodies.