Wi-Fi. For the business traveler, and nowadays most travelers in general, is as essential as air. For many, Wi-Fi serves as the Internet’s connective tissue for mobile devices, laptops and even the new Internet of Things linking to important information and people.
Already, pundits are suggesting that 2017 will be a year of change for Wi-Fi. And, as with any transformational year, Wi-Fi for the traveler will bring new changes, and also, repeat many of the same challenges that have been around for years, as it’s a technology that constantly is in a state of change.
As Mojo Networks’ Kaustubh Phanse pointed out, “the state of WiFi in 2017 is going to see changes, more so than in the past.” These changes are coming to the forefront due to advances in infrastructure, evolving deployments by mobile and cable networks and new technology coming to life. Most of all, the changes are the result of advances that support the ever increasing demand by the public to stay connected. With those changes comes disparity between networks and a total lack of a consistent consumer Wi-Fi experience, with some locations operated by the same provider delivering different speeds and reliability.
All Wi-Fi isn’t The Same
“Not all Wi-Fi is created equal,” said Boingo CTO Dr. Derek Peterson, who added that, “a superior customer experience for travelers where Wi-Fi and getting connected is essential.”
This increasing demand seems to know no limits, as the rise of what Google Ventures backed cloud communications company Dialpad calls the “anywhere worker” seems to be growing. According to Peterson, “in June 2015, Wi-Fi users at LAX were consuming an average of 65 MB. Now users are consuming 257MB on average, an increase of 300%.” iPass, which like Boingo provides Wi-Fi network access globally to business execs, reported in their “2016 Mobile Professional Report” that when Wi-Fi is free at airports, almost 72 percent of travelers will opt to log on. But working on free airport Wi-Fi compared to a paid Boingo connection has its challenges, usually related to congestion.
“Airport free Wi-Fi is the biggest culprit of this,” quipped digital nomad, Andrew Lee Miller, who has traveled the world working in all types of wireless environments. “In Dubai, you have port blocking on Skype, Whatsapp calling and FaceBook Messenger calling.”
According to iPass, 74.9 percent of professionals who log on tend to feel that Wi-Fi improves their quality of life. That feeling may be why 2017 deployments of public Wi-Fi will be increasing. Many of these new hotspots coming to new locations, are located in retail shops and businesses, so their visitors and customers can remain better informed, aware, engaged and visible to their friends, family and colleagues.
Wi-Fi Comes to More Places
“Expect to see Wi-Fi popping up in more places – think cars or drones – providing temporary coverage in an areas ranging from office parking lots to county fairs,” said Steve Koenig, CTA’s Senior Director of Industry Analysis added “These temporary hubs will offer connectivity in otherwise cutoff places, allowing business travelers to set up shop anywhere, anytime.”
This is all being caused largely by cellular dead zones, especially in office buildings and shopping malls. In building cellular coverage, the scourge for mobile operators worldwide, is indicative of the ever present need for more Wi-Fi. “Many buildings do not have adequate cellular coverage inside, said Ben Cardwell, Senior Vice President, CommScope Mobility Solutions. “Mobile operators cannot realistically fund in-building cellular networks except for the largest venues such as stadiums and airports.” It’s this deficiency that’s driving hotels, corporate offices and other businesses needing to deploy Wi-Fi and mobile access systems themselves to support visitors and staff.
“2017 will be the year businesses start leveraging their Wi-Fi networks to compete for travelers’ dollars,” said Jeff Abramowitz, President of Cloud4Wi and an author of the original IEEE 802.11 specification, as well as founder of the Wi-Fi Alliance “As retailers, restaurants, hotels and shopping centers continue with their ‘digital transformation’, Guest Wi-Fi will inevitably play a large role.”
Larry Coval, Vice President of Cox Business, echoes Abramowitz’s line of thinking. “A major trend in 2017 is more small to medium sized businesses offering free Wi-Fi,” calling it “no longer just a coffee house amenity.” In fact, according to a national survey from Cox Business, 45% of consumers would prefer free Wi-Fi over coffee. This coincides with a Cox offer for businesses to make their connections available to customers free of charge, by having business customer locations designated a Cox WiFi hotspot. The service separates the Internet traffic for the company from the guest network in a secure manner.
With more new Wi-Fi locations coming online in 2017, subscriptions to multi-location networks like iPass and Boingo become essential tools on just about any business traveler’s tool belt, as access will not only make it easier to stay connected, but will ensure everyone, from operator to vistor has the best experience.
Andy took his first flight at age 14 when he was working in media relations for a professional sports team in Philadelphia, and since then he’s never stopped traveling. Named “Business Traveler of the Year” by Business Traveler Magazine in 2015, for the past twelve years he has traveled over 200 days a year, often for a month or more. In addition to travel, Andy has been a heard and seen as a technology correspondent on Business Rockstars, KenRadio, for the BBC’s ClickOnline and his own online sites, VoIPWatch, WineScene and WorkingAnywhere. Often quoted on travel, marketing and technology, he holds a degree in Journalism from Temple University, and is CEO of Comunicano, Inc., a global value strategy agency, working for start-ups and companies in transition, with 42 exits to his credit in the last 16 years.