SA mobile networks looking at WiFi Hotspot 2.0

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There really aren’t many smart phones in South Africa. According to a recent report by BuzzCity, South Africa has the second highest penetration rate on the continent at just 19%. While that’s good news if you want to sell handsets into a market with growth potential, it’s really bad news if you’re a mobile customer. If you think mobile data speeds and connectivity has issues now, wait until there are double or triple the number of smartphones out there all checking their email at the same time.

In other countries, where smartphones make up to four out of every five handsets in use, that problem has already reared its head. According to Greg de Chasteauneuf from Internet Solutions, network operators simply can’t bring enough new base stations online to satisfy demand – especially when you take into account the idea that by 2020 there will be even more internet enabled devices which aren’t phones trying to use the mobile networks than there are handsets.

Speaking at the Internetix conference in Johannesburg, de Chasteauneuf explained how the internet of things – or the everything, everywhere network as he put is – will change our lives. Already, he said, he uses a networked system based on an Arduino board to work out when he arrives home by watching for his phone to log onto his home network. When that happens, his garage doors open.

“There’s a few bugs I need to iron out,” de Chasteauneuf explains, “Like my WiFi doesn’t cover the whole of my garden, so when I’m playing football with my kids and wander out of range, the door randomly opens.”

de Chasteauneef is a big fan of cheap, open source hardware like the Arduino.

“If this is going to be a revolution,” he says, “These are going to be the revolutionaries. These will help the kid in the garage come up the Next Big Thing that will challenge the likes of Samsung and Apple.”

With cities around the world investing in everything from intelligent sensors in parking bays to dustbins which called the local equivalent of Pickitup when they’re full, demand for data is likely to outstrip supply.

One solution that most operators around the world – including some in South Africa (although he won’t say who) – are looking at is offloading some of that mobile data onto fixed line networks using WiFi hotspots. The trouble is that public hotspots aren’t very easy to use, tend to be quite slow and aren’t necessarily very secure either.

Enter, says de Chasteauneuf, WiFi Hotspot 2.0. Already supported by Apple in iOS 7.0 and on Samsung phones for over a year, WiFi Hotspot 2.0 is a forthcoming standard proposed by the WiFi Broadband Alliance, a consortium of the WiFi Alliance and the GSMA. WiFi Hotspot 2.0 will allow for phones to hop on and hop off of encrypted networks using SIM-based USSID and a phone’s IMEI nember as authentication. It’s a clever idea, which could be used to cover public areas like shopping centres and train stations with blanket WiFi coverage billed through your network operator.

de Chasteauneuf says that operators are having discussions about where and how to implement WiFi 2.0 already, and that announcements about the technology are less than 18 months away. He tips it as the tech to watch, especially since combined with an LTE network it’s the most cost effective way to get mobile users online.



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