For the past two decades, Wi-Fi has grown from a promising technology for tech-savvy early adopters to a must have for connected devices of all kind. This trend in Wi-Fi dependence is not slowing down, if anything, it is significantly increasing with greater consumer expectation for higher-speed, higher-reliability Wi-Fi connections everywhere and at any time.
"The confluence of having more people, more devices, and more bandwidth in more desired places will help drive seamless connectivity everywhere, allowing brands and businesses to more efficiently communicate, personalize and engage with consumers"
In fact, in more recent years, consumers’ need to be connected is now coupled with a sense of entitlement for 24/7/365 internet access, which has required cellular operators to build-out their congested macro networks in hopes of outpacing the bandwidth curve. Operators are pushing data to local Wi-Fi networks in every way possible, such as enabling Wi-Fi calling features, push notifications to user devices when near a hotspot the operator either manages or has a roaming relationship, and of course by pursuing trials and eventually obtaining FCC approval for LTE over unlicensed spectrum (LTE-u). Further, the consumerization of IT, where consumers use corporate applications on personal devices and new emerging connected industries from the Internet of Things (IoT), connected cars and connected cities to having internet on airplanes, cruise liners, oil rigs and more, are making Wi-Fi the backbone of choice for supporting these new applications and markets.
With these changes, the Wi-Fi industry voice has been evolving. No longer are you seeing TV commercials selling against Wi-Fi, saying that technology is not ubiquitous like cellular. To the contrary, Wi-Fi is near ubiquitous, and arguably everywhere you need it to be—the home, the office and in the places people congregate in between. Yesteryear’s naysayers are now today’s champions, if not dependent on Wi-Fi as a necessary technology for their products and services.
A few years ago, only a handful of mobile devices and even fewer wired devices in the home or office had Wi- Fi chipsets. Today, that has changed. We now see smartphones, tablets and laptops as well as a significant share of wired devices such as TVs, printers, point-of-sale (POS) systems and other devices employing Wi-Fi as a standard interface. In another five years, the expectation is that IoT devices in the home, office and on-the-go will have Wi-Fi as its primary vehicle for accessing the internet or to connect between devices. The ecosystem will overcome technical obstacles to ensure a more seamless connection to these networks, whether by way of Passpoint (aka ‘Hotspot 2.0’), the Wi-Fi Alliances’ answer to mitigating roaming hiccups between operators, or connection between Wi-Fi devices such as Wi-Fi Direct.
The growth of the industry has stakeholders taking notice. Venues, retailers and small businesses realize that Wi-Fi is no longer just a necessary amenity for their guests or employees, it now offers new insight into consumer usage, interest and buying patterns for greater analytics and engagement. The data that can be gleaned from Wi-Fi networks, barring any personally identifiable information (PII) and privacy concerns, can be used for asset, employee and guest tracking, to location-based services such as advertising, proximity analytics, consumer engagement and more.
In the next five years, consumers can expect an even more personalized experience—a deeper connection and engagement experience to the brands they follow; creating a paradigm shift in browsing, purchasing and loyalty program interactivity. In the home or office, connected devices may automatically anticipate user needs, learn behaviors and understand agendas and may present proposed recommendations, solutions, applications or other defined needs, in order to simplify and manage user lifestyles and career demands.
But how do we get that point? Generally speaking, the Wi-Fi industry ecosystem—operators, device manufacturers, network hardware vendors, media companies, application developers, advertisers, regulators and a number of others— needs to develop and agree to a set of standard information attributes that can be shared among one another to better understand consumer behavior at the customer premise. This sharing of data will enable a more personalized consumer experience, providing value to all stakeholders. By cooperating on these standards, the information, advertising, content and applications that matter to that individual or device can cut through the noise in order to view, receive, send and engage on those things that matter most to them.
To summarize, we are still at the beginning of the Wi- Fi personalization wave that will launch over the next five years. The confluence of having more people, more devices and more bandwidth in more desired places will help drive seamless connectivity everywhere, allowing brands and businesses to more efficiently communicate, personalize and engage with consumers – anywhere. However, to get there, operators must continue to build-out and fortify their networks and the Wi-Fi ecosystem and standards bodies must work jointly to build confidence in Wi-Fi reliability and Wi-Fi sharing techniques that place emphasis on protecting people’s personal information.