A recent research article by Khynghan et. al, in a paper titled “Mobile Data Offloading: How Much Can WiFi Deliver?” estimates that about 65% of mobile data can be offloaded onto Wi-Fi networks. By this they mean that much of the data generated by users browsing the Internet via mobile devices can be rerouted from the mobile 3G network onto Wi-Fi networks.
With the explosive growth of data consumption by mobile devices in Kenya, network operators have several strategies aimed at meeting the unprecedented growth. These strategies include 3G and 4G network expansion to carter for this growth, adoption of new technologies such as 4G-LTE and use of new network architectures that maximize network resources. Unfortunately, with declining or flat revenues and margins from unit data consumption, nearly all these strategies are expensive and eating into the already declining margins.
Wi-Fi offloading is becoming an attractive alternative path for operators to cope with the increased traffic from Smart devices. In the US, smart devices account for only 3% of all mobile devices but contribute about 40% of all mobile data traffic. With majority of these devices having Wi-Fi capability, offloading their traffic onto Wi-Fi network from 3G presents a very viable alternative.
Wi-Fi offers the following advantages that makes it a very likely alternative to the more expensive roll-out of 3G and 4G especially in densely populated areas:
- It is much cheaper to roll-out Wi-Fi hotspots around a city compared to a 3G or 4G network
- Wi-Fi networks are very scalable, it can take months to expand a 3G network but few days to expand a Wi-Fi network
- A Wi-Fi network, if well designed can offer much higher throughput speeds than existing mobile networks
- A smart device connected to a Wi-Fi network is more efficient on battery conservation than one connected to a mobile network.
Are users really Mobile ?
There is a general misconception that mobile devices are used by users in motion, a lot of attention has therefore been paid to ‘seamless’ station to station hand-off of a mobile voice and data connection. In a paper by University of Malaga, University of Limerick and Nokia Siemens Networks the authors show that less than 3% of calls in the world are actually handed off from one base station to another. This shows that majority of “mobile” users are stationary when making calls or browsing the web. This percentage is bound to be lower in a country like Kenya meaning that deployment of Wi-Fi networks that lack hand off capabilities possessed by 3G networks will not impact user experience and operators will not compromise quality of service.
Mobile operators can spur the usage of Wi-Fi networks by first educating users on the fact that majority of mobile devices give higher priority to a Wi-Fi network than a 3G network, i.e. if your phone is connected to both Wi-Fi and 3G, it will by default send data over the Wi-Fi network and revert to 3G when there is no Wi-Fi coverage. The operators can also send over the air (OTA) Wi-Fi configurations and settings to enable mobile devices automatically connect to the providers Wi-Fi network when it detects a good signal. The operators can also spur usage of Wi-Fi by mobile users by offering better data tariffs for users on Wi-Fi than those on 3G/4G.
Statistics from the research by Khynghan et. al. show that 3G to Wi-Fi traffic offloading tests done in New York City showed that over 65% of 3G mobile data was offloaded onto Wi-Fi networks by smart devices leading to faster browsing speeds and a 55% battery saving as devices no longer need signaling power. (be it legacy ss7 or SIGTRAN).
In these days of shrinking revenues and skyrocketing costs, Kenyan mobile operators should give Wi-Fi a thought if they are to meet their customers expectation of quality service and give their shareholders return on their investments.