If you have been in the telecom business for a while, it is normal to think of the “fixed network” business and the “mobile” business as two distinct fields of endeavor, and from a provider perspective, that often makes sense.
Mobile services are sold, provisioned and maintained by one organization, fixed services often by another. The features of each service are distinct in some ways and those features are priced differently. Business success is tracked separately.
From the standpoint of an end user, customer, application or device supplier, the distinction is blurring, though. Most of today’s computing devices can use a range of connections, and increasingly it is Wi-Fi that is the common access capability.
Whether one looks at smart phones, tablets or PCs, “access” typically is “untethered,” without the need of a cable connecting to a network. To be sure, mobile devices sometimes are used while a customer is actually “moving” about. But, most often, that is true of voice or messaging, with some light use of data services.
By volume, though, most use of Internet services and apps is conducted while users are stationary. And most of that usage happens inside the home or at the office, not while people are out and about.
The long term implications are not yet clear. But there already are glimmerings of how the value of Wi-Fi is changing mobile executive thinking. At a very basic level, mobile network executives wish to encourage their mobile users to offload traffic to the Wi-Fi (fixed) networks.
Fixed network executives want to create Wi-Fi capabilities for their fixed Internet access customers, adding a “nomadic” feature to a fixed location service. That is perhaps most clear in the U.S. market by the steps taken by cable operators to add public Wi-Fi hotspot access as an amenity for cable modem access services.
Mobile operators likewise have a vested interest in public Wi-Fi hotspots, but more as a way to offload demand from the mobile network. Increasingly, small cell sites serving high-density urban locations will be equipped both with mobile and Wi-Fi radios, allowing users access to either access mode, for example.
Some entrepreneurs also are creating “mobile” services that default first to Wi-Fi, then use the mobile network only if Wi-Fi access is not possible. On the “demand” side of the equation, consumers already have embraced Wi-Fi as a primary access model for smart phone and tablet use, if only to save money on their mobile data plan charges.
Among the larger implications is that the value proposition for telecom services increasingly relies on support for :”untethered” computing devices of all types, irrespective of the backhaul or distribution network.