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Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.
Wi-Fi is a seasoned, accessible solution for business, while 4G is still being refined for enterprise-specific needs but appears to hold great promise as a low-latency protocol that can support critical enterprise applications, a necessity in the "business everywhere" enterprise of today.
But this perception of a "war" does not actually hold water. While some analysts tabbed 4G as a Wi-Fi killer, carriers and wireless operators remained quiet on the subject, portraying it more as a companion or parallel service in many cases. Why this silence when it comes to taking on 4G's rival headfirst? Because the next big thing in cellular could actually be Wi-Fi.
LTE SPECTRUM: How much do the big carriers have?
Often taken for granted, at least by businesses outside of the service industry, is the fact that many wireless carriers and operators already offer Wi-Fi service, albeit on a hotspot/location limited basis. Starbucks coffee shops, for example, are AT&T free Wi-Fi zones, while many airports and other public venues offer similar offerings through Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
The reasoning behind these Wi-Fi zones is twofold. First, it affirms the ubiquitous nature of carriers to both the business world and the general public -- the goodwill earned by carriers through Wi-Fi hotspots can lead to customer retention and new deals. Second, and perhaps most importantly, free Wi-Fi provides an offload from busy cellular networks. Rather than watching hours of YouTube videos over 4G, a coffee shop patron could hop on to free Wi-Fi for their streaming media fix, easing the congestion on the carrier network.
But the Wi-Fi of today, both in the corner deli and the boardroom, is a poor parallel to what the service will look like once wireless carriers fully integrate it into product portfolios.
Carrier Wi-Fi will potentially have much more in common with 4G than it does with the Wi-Fi we're currently familiar with. "True" Wi-Fi will offer a full suite of sophisticated backend functions, including billing and priority capabilities, along with smarter end user authentication and support for a heavy user load, providing a far more comprehensive and enterprise class service.
As a pre-emergent service, the business model for carrier Wi-Fi is still very much in flux, but at its core involves offering Wi-Fi as an addendum or add-on to 4G LTE. This allows a carrier to keep both businesses and consumers locked on to its network, reaping the benefits of static user numbers, while being able to offload high traffic from the 4G network to the free Wi-Fi spectrum, not to mention retaining customers, thanks to an overall enhanced experience on its network.