Tony Walt
Tony Walt Chief Operations Officer

Since its inception in the late 1990s, WiFi has become a game-changer in the telecommunications industry. It has fundamentally shifted the perception of how people connect to the online world and how they communicate.

two people looking at a cellphone

When it comes to WiFi, IS is as bullish as it has always been. The buy-out of the minority shareholders in AlwaysOn goes to show that our board of directors support the vision of a WiFi-driven future.

We believe that Internet protocol (IP) will drive things going forward and the choice of access is going to be around mobility. More specifically around transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) and WiFi connectivity.

These are the fundamentals that IS was founded on. They are our strengths and they are at the heart of everything that we do as an Internet company. In fact, everything we have ever done is on TCP/IP and we have always believed that TCP/IP would supersede any other protocol.

We bet on this technology because we believe that what wins at the end of the day is a collaborative, open-access standard like TCP/IP. Not closed standards like the open systems interconnection (OSI) stack, which was slowed by big standards bodies and corporates.

TCP/IP was developed to allow anyone to contribute, extend, and add to the protocol. It is free, open access and not governed by one standards body. Developers and engineers could add to and enhance the protocol, they improved its security, added storage to IP and even voice was packed out and included. These major milestones were driven by collaboration. It is a tradition that encapsulates the essence of what TCP/IP is today. Interestingly, TCP/IP and the Internet developed simultaneously, so TCP/IP routeing protocols evolved along with the with Internet.

Given all of this, it is surprising that organisations still bet their business on satellite and GSM technology. Although WiFi will not be the only way people connect to the Internet, at least 50% of the last-mile traffic of the future will happen over WiFi.

The growth and importance of WiFi are showing no signs of slowing down. Organisations like Google, with the help of some new age telcos, have already announced that they will launch a traditional mobile network operator based solely on WiFi technology. The phones will have WiFi-only radios – meaning that voice and video will just be another app on the phone, delivered via WiFi and TCP/IP.

With the average revenue per user (ARPU) of traditional mobile operators dropping up to 50% year-on-year and mobile data making low margins, we can see that the latter is not growing fast enough to offset the massive drop in voice revenue. Mobile operators are now also competing with unconventional players in the data space.

Something you cannot ignore is the innovation around smart devices. The majority are WiFi enabled and can comfortably compete with what the global system for mobile communication (GSM) providers are doing today. We are likely to see many more WiFi-only mobile carriers in the very near future. Their cost base will be a fraction of that of the traditional mobile operators and they won’t be operating in the licensing regime that these operators depend on.

WiFi is a self-governing, self-regulating body where the highest quality always wins. WiFi players don’t have to hide behind the license or spectrum and bodies like ISPA, that IS founded, will regulate the role Wi-Fi plays in the future. We are taking it out of government’s hands but we clearly want government’s support.

This means that the high quality of access and the distribution network will be regulated by the industry themselves, as opposed to the very unhealthy, cartel-like, relationship between government and the oligopoly in the industry.

What we see here is a fast and nimble open access technology versus a highly regulated technology. The fall of an empire is imminent, it happened to the Roman empire and it will happen to telcos.

While there will always be a place for mobile technologies such as LTE, these will become an offload, mobile transit protocol that will cater for connectivity outside of a WiFi hotspot. In five years from now, GSM won’t exist.

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