March 14, 2017
A recent story on Bloomberg Technology had an ominous headline, “A World Without Wi-Fi Looks Possible as Unlimited Plans Rise.” This is an interesting story. The premise that unlimited data will kill Wi-Fi is a bit premature. As Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” so are the reports that Wi-Fi is on it’s deathbed.
As we all know the unlimited data plans aren’t really unconditionally unlimited and I really can’t see the carriers handling the data tsunami and offering truly unlimited (beyond 10 gig) without some stuff way beyond 4G mods, and until 5G is strongly in place (and much of that will be higher frequencies which do not propagate all that well). So the model of where all this data will end up is still not clear. The unknown here is streaming media and there is a lot of speculation around exactly how, what and how streaming media will actually play out. Even I am not sure exactly how it will end up.
This is one of my biggest issues with sites like Bloomberg. While they did they talk to the Wi-Fi Alliance and I’m sure the alliance mentioned Wi-GIG, nothing was said about it. They also should have talked to someone at the IEEE 802.xx working group, or the Multimedia-Grade Wi-Fi Working Group. They go to sources that, I believe, aren’t really deeply in the loop.
They did interview Kyung Mun, an analyst at researcher Mobile Experts. I know Kyung (he lives up near me and is going to do a thought leader piece for me next issue), and talked to him about the article. He said he mentioned Wi-GIG and its importance future, but they didn’t quote him on that. Perhaps that did not fit into the Bloomberg’s Wi-Fi death spiral narrative.
Right now, Wi-Fi is being used for three primary platforms – offload of data on macro networks, fill-in of poor coverage zones and local networks such as stadiums, homes, and office complexes, etc. To replace that with one of the other options isn’t all that viable yet, considering the ubiquitous deployment of Wi-Fi. I highly doubt that LTE-U or some other scheme is going to replace Wi-Fi in areas such as The Edge, and high-traffic areas/periods that require densification, and the others, any time soon.
To replace such Wi-Fi solutions will require either frequency manipulation schemes, or more likely small cells. And the Wi-Fi models, so far, haven’t shown to be a money making model in most cases (especially for the carriers). So the carriers will either have to eat the costs or find a way to monetize them. What makes them think LTE-U will be any different (particularly in no coverage zones)?
Second, there is still the issue of Wi-Fi/LTE-U interference that hasn’t been resolved yet. Thirdly, not all data is fit for phones or tablet. I cannot see me writing articles on my phone or a tablet. So will the hotels, stadiums and coffee shops give up Wi-Fi? I doubt it. I see tons of peeps in coffee shops working on laptopsThe model of charging for Wi-Fi access died a long time ago so users are used to “free” network access in such cases. And if LTE-U is available on laptops, will it be free?
The Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) initiative is a long way from becoming an universal option and even though it plays at lower frequencies with better propagation, now the interference issue raises its head.
Sure, some people are going to stop using Wi-Fi, if their unlimited plan works for them – at least in some cases. I don’t have the security worries about unsecured connection because I have electric condoms all over my stuff. In the end, Wi-Fi is going to evolve and live along side of LTE, LTE-License Assisted Access, LTE-U and CBRS, ad infinitum. Exactly how, though, is yet to be figured out…