Waiting for WiFi

The combination of WiFi and apps could make a big difference to how organisations engage with people. Its a good thing we are building the NBN.

A few weeks ago I walked into a Woolworths store and there was a large sign advertising the company’s new shopping app. I am not a big shopper but the ad did pique my curiosity and I thought that I should download the app.

However, I didn’t – there was no WiFi connection and I wasn’t sure about the size of the app and didn’t want to play around with it in the shop.

The scenario came back to me a few days when I was talking to Selina Lo, the CEO of Ruckus Wireless, a company specialised in enterprise WiFi, and it was at that point that I thought here was an opportunity missed by Woolworths.

If it had had a WiFi hotspot I would have downloaded the app and the company would have instantly had my attention. It could, for instance, have suggested I use the app on my smartphone while shopping. I could be sent shopping tips, recipes, specials, and I would have used it, even if it was just for the fun of it.

Having said that, here are some more ideas and suggestions on how the combination of WiFi and apps could make a big difference on how organisations can attract the attention of people.

Think about shopping centres providing access to shopping guides, maps, specials and discount vouchers; train and bus stations with latest updates and alternatives; airlines scanning smartphones to potentially trace people and get them to the plane on time, instead of those annoyingly repetitive public address announcements about people holding up flights.  Sporting fields and stadiums could offer WiFi-based services showing certain angles or other games on your tablet, just for a few dollars on top of your ticket. The possibilities are endless and your imagination is the only thing stopping you from adding many more examples to this list.

There is plenty of interest out there, especially as enterprises start understanding the power of telecoms in combination with smartphones and tablets.

A key role for telcos

Telcos could play a key role here as well. Often they already have base stations at prime locations that could be used for such enterprise offerings, or they could add another one based on business they could generate this way. It will be hard to charge the user for access, but enterprises could pay for a well-managed service.

It all comes back to my conviction that such ‘wholesale’ and enterprise opportunities are still largely being ignored by the telcos, by both the fixed and the mobile operators. Having said that, things are changing and new business models are being implemented to make such services more attractive.

In the past it was often cheaper for an enterprise to do it themselves than to use a telco. They felt cheated and, often for that reason alone, dropped the project as the enterprise customer found it all too complex and had other more important things on their mind.

But we are entering a new era and the following key developments are set to speed up enterprise WiFi in a big way:

  • Fibre is now available in many enterprise locations that would warrant a WiFi connection. This makes the running costs of the service very low;
  • The Internet of Things is another development that will see more and more devices connected to the network – for example, every electricity utility station or transformer could soon potentially become a hotspot;
  • Smartphones and tablets are going to see an increased demand for such services; and
  • Enterprises have an opportunity to be in contact with their customers at key locations.

Of course, all of this is linked to other developments, such as the fact that most internet downloads on smartphones and tablets take place at WiFi locations in the home, office, cafe, etc. In relation to tablets, 65 per cent of them only have a WiFi connection. SmartTV and other entertainment devices will be connected through Gigabyte WiFi to the fixed network.

All of these enterprise and residential developments will increase the need for an Fibre-to-the-Home (FttH) network. As soon as gigabit speeds are available in the home, businesses and at public locations, the biggest bottleneck will be the national broadband infrastructure to support it. Australia is showing foresight here and that’s why we are building a nationwide FttH network.

Paul Budde is the managing director of BuddeComm, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy company, which includes 45 national and international researchers in 15 countries. 

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