With data consumption rapidly soaring toward epic proportions, carriers are looking for ways to get traffic off their cellular networks. Because most data-hungry devices come outfitted with Wi-Fi, offloading data traffic onto Wi-Fi networks is quickly becoming a network management staple for operators.
Devicescape, a company that specializes in making it easier for devices to connect to Wi-Fi, has found itself in the middle of this burgeoning trend. The company counts handset giants Nokia, Samsung, Motorola and Research In Motion among its customers, as well as HP, Intel and Nintendo. Wireless Week Associate Editor Maisie Ramsay recently spoke with Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser about what the company is seeing in the Wi-Fi offload space and what lies in store for Devicescape. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Wireless Week: Tell me about Devicescape's technology. Where is it used and why?
Dave Fraser: Wi-Fi is easy enough in the home and workplace, but where it starts to get complicated is in the public area. It's a massively deployed set of little networks without standardization and a lot of complexity in how you use them. The typical public network has been designed for computers so you have to go through several steps to get through the log-in process. We make all that complexity happen automatically. When a cell phone is in a location where there's Wi-Fi, the device will try to connect to that network behind the scenes. It's about the user not having to go through any complicated manual steps and helps carriers free up capacity on the 3G network.
WW: What kind of trends are you seeing in the Wi-Fi space?
Fraser: Service providers are investing in data offload, and part of that is encouraging people to use Wi-Fi by bundling it into their cellular plan so you get Wi-Fi access for free. There's a massive trend to replace paid Wi-Fi with free or bundled Wi-Fi, and the rationale for doing that is to get traffic off of cellular networks. The revenue associated with Wi-Fi itself has been small, about $2 billion worldwide. It has a lot more value as a data offload mechanism or as an amenity to bring people into a venue.
WW: Why do you think operators are incorporating Wi-Fi offload into their network management plans?
Fraser: Network operators obviously have to do something to manage the massive, spiraling growth of multimedia devices and applications. Data caps are unpopular, as you well realize, and the imbalance between the capacity of wired and wireless connections is going to grow. We think we have one mechanism that makes it easy to offload traffic and increase the capacity of the 3G network, but a combination of approaches are going to be necessary.
WW: Why do you see Wi-Fi as such a promising technology for offloading traffic from cellular networks?
Fraser: Wi-Fi is a massive technology; it's the all-conquering local area protocol. I think it's going to dominate for the foreseeable future and its use in traffic offload is really just starting. The iPhone was a harbinger of change. It's really only in the last year that service providers have been starting to grapple with offload. Before that, I think they were in denial, perhaps.
WW: What are some of the most frequent concerns from your customers? What are they looking for?
Fraser: The questions about how our technology works, its security and stability are behind us. The questions now tend to be about the breath of Wi-Fi networks that we support. If we don't have a Wi-Fi network, what other Wi-Fi networks can you take our traffic to? Can we offload to public networks? The real question is whether we can automate access, make it simple for an end user to knit together all the different Wi-Fi networks for more coverage, which has the same result as pulling traffic off cellular.
WW: What's ahead for Devicescape?
Fraser: We want to bring together the various Wi-Fi networks into one whole network, and we're doing that through our Easy WiFi technology. It knits together unrelated Wi-Fi nodes so we can present users with a unified Wi-Fi network. We can then license that technology as a virtual Wi-Fi network. It's completely free for end users.