Google, Microsoft and Others Announce Coalition for Greater Wi-Fi Access

by Istvan Fekete on February 18, 2014

A handful of technology and cable companies have formed a coalition to expand access to Wi-Fi networks, reports the Wall Street Journal. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Google, and Microsoft have joined forces under the name, WifiForward.

The announcement came last Thursday when the group confirmed that 18 companies will participate in the initiative, including Motorola, Best Buy, and the Consumer Electronics Association.

The mission statement describes the group as an “ad hoc, broad-based group of companies, organizations, and public-sector institutions working to alleviate the Wi-Fi spectrum crunch and to support making Wi-Fi even better by finding more unlicensed spectrum.”

The group, however, doesn’t include wireless players such as Verizon and AT&T, for which the initiative poses a puzzle. AT&T, for example, has invested heavily in building its own network and Wi-Fi hotspots, but the company now wants its traffic back as it has completed (in part) its upgrade to the so-called LTE technology.

“We are now at a place where the pricing is right, LTE is performing very, very well, and you want to drive utilization of these networks,” AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said at an analysts conference in December.

“Verizon and AT&T have put all their eggs in the basket of incremental usage for incremental dollars,” said Craig Moffett, senior analyst at MoffettNathanson LLC. With more ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage, “suddenly it is a whole lot harder to figure out how these companies are going to grow.”

If Wi-Fi becomes to ubiquitous, wireless players will need to solve the “how to get customers into higher data plans” puzzle.

As a recent study reveals, last year mobile users in North America consumed an average of roughly 1.4 GB of data on a monthly basis. This number is projected to grow to 9 GB per month by 2018, the Cisco Systems study says.

Looking at the current status of mobile data traffic, we find that about 57% of it is carried by Wi-Fi, and this is expected to increase to 64% by 2018, the same study highlights. This, however, also congests Wi-Fi networks, which is why WifiForward wants to free up more spectrum.

Also, improving Wi-Fi access is a go-go for Microsoft and Google, which rely on spectrum to deliver their own cloud-based Web services.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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