Busting the wi-fi lockdown

With access to wi-fi on the rise, imagine a scenario where you could make a profit by letting others use your network. It may sound far-fetched but it could soon become a reality.

Imagine a world where wi-fi was accessible everywhere, it was fast and you could charge fractions of cents for other people to access and use your wi-fi network. I have imagined this world and it’s not too far around the corner.

The ability to walk into any shop, office, house, hotel, park and access high speed “free” wi-fi holds immense promise. Most importantly, it would mean that the customer could be incredibly mobile and access content whenever and wherever they wanted. However, the two aspects of this model that warrant close attention are who pays for this access and at what price?

The access to wi-fi is already far reaching, but as things stand everyone locks down their network because of the high costs of downloads. This has created a new mobile product set of dongles and 3G / 4G wireless cards, but think of the waste, building networks where there is already massive wi-fi penetration and the cost to business of millions of these devices every month. This is a waste of Australian resources and money on a grand scale.

If you could access wi-fi as described above and pay the wi-fi owner, in some form of dynamic IP payment service you would change one aspect of the problem by providing a reason for people not to lock down their network.

In fact you could even make a profit while someone in the adjacent household uses your network to make a phone call.

The rate of technological advancement driven by smartphones, data speeds and software is steadily making the world a very different place to do business. Traditional working practices and business models are being rendered clunky and new ways of working and making money are springing up daily. What we need is a way to enhance this very change.

The influx of software change has already displaced some traditional telecommunications revenues. For example, SMS revenues are decreasing due to IOS software on IPhones. This software is routing SMS messages through the data connection sending it over the top (OTT) of the “SMS Network” and avoiding SMS Costs. The same OTT approach already exists for phone calls (as a type of VoIP) through software such as Skype and Viber. We are also seeing video conferencing being integrated into smartphone software, displacing traditional revenue streams. It is the power of this software that will be the catalyst that feeds a ‘micro-charging’ revolution.

It then becomes all about how to force, or should I say incentivise, telcos to provide the right level of data plan? Well, with the NBN we are on the way there, high speed access will underpin most wi-fi connections in Australia’s future. Whether the charging model for monthly access would enable “micro-charging” as I envisage is still unknown for the long-term.

So far the opening up of localised wi-fi base stations is nowhere on the industry radar, however, there’s no doubt that market forces will drive the innovation and rollout of such products in the future.

One can also argue that this is a sphere where the government could get involved. Government policy and legislation is, by its very democratic nature, slow and lumbering. This is an even bigger consideration when it comes to technology and one only need to look at the time-shifting case of Optus and the AFL / ARL to see how legislation can be caught behind the times.

However, legislation need not be about papering over cracks when they appear and reacting to change, legislation can be a catalyst for change. The NBN, at its very nature is a catalyst for change.

If the government is really was about making Australia a land of technological access and innovation, driving productivity gains by proper “ubiquitous” access to high-speed internet, then they need to push farther than their current line of thinking. And this could be the basis of incentive based legislation or regulation. 

Tony Simmons is the managing director and founder of The Full Circle Group, an independent telecommunications consultancy firm focused on Telco expense costs and management.  

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