AT&T Points to Big Gains in Wi-Fi

Carl Weinschenk

AT&T reported very good results from its Wi-Fi business last year. The carrier completed more than 2.7 billion connections, more than doubling the previous year, and now exceeds 32,000 hotspot locations. Other numbers are just as robust: AT&T’s footprint grew 10 percent, more than triple the data traffic was handled (more than 5.2 Megabits), 40 percent more connections were made from smartphones and tablets, and there was a 190 percent increase in mobile data uploads.

Those numbers obviously suggest an exploding market. More devices can utilize Wi-Fi. The platform is growing more sophisticated and the need to offload from the cellular infrastructure is increasingly obvious.

What the numbers don’t say is what percentage of the increase is new traffic altogether and what percentage is transitioned from cellular. It would be interesting to understand how much of the growth is from acquisition. And, perhaps most importantly, is whether AT&T’s Wi-Fi network is changing qualitatively as well as quantitatively.

Each carrier will have different numbers and different answers to those questions. Whatever they are, the overriding truth is that Wi-Fi is growing tremendously. Closely assessing that growth is vital for it to continue and even accelerate.


BYOD News

Of course, one of the big topics IT Business Edge covers on an ongoing basis is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). It is increasingly important to understand how the industry is divvying up the innards of a smartphone to keep both the consumer happy and employers’ data secure.

This week, CNET ran a piece on what may be a pretty simple solution: Dual-subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. Kent German points out that this approach to cell phone management is not new, but apparently not highly desired:

Now I know that dual-SIM phones have been around for years, but the biggest OEMs in wireless haven't put a lot of resources behind them. Smaller manufacturers, particularly from China, have made up the slack, but those devices can be hard to find outside of Asia. What's worse, most of the devices that I've tested are pretty forgettable. The Duet W002, for example, was a poor iPhone knockoff and the D8 had a maddening user experience.

German doesn’t address the BYOD issue by name, but does say that dual SIMs can be a good way to separate consumer and business identities. The issue is taken on more directly by Ritu Saxena at Tools Journal, who wrote about a British company called Movirtu. The firm offers WorkLife virtualized SIMs. The company’s site explains the virtualization angle.

Two questions emerge from a discussion of dual SIMs: This seems like such a simple solution. Why, then, hasn’t it gotten more play? It also is important to determine the level of security in a dual SIM approach: What, precisely, are the security ramifications of using two SIMs?

I’m kicking myself because I didn’t use the phrase “the form factor wars” a few years ago. It has been an underlying theme: desktop or laptop? Laptop or tablet? Laptop, tablet or smartphone? And on and on. Even within each of these categories, the actual dimension of the devices – the width, depth, length and weight – are big deals.

Now, it seems, things are settling right about in the middle. Of course, there always will be all types of devices. But the predominant size, the high point of the bell curve, seems to be in the slightly bigger smartphone/smaller tablet area. DisplaySearch released data indicating that smaller tablets (7-in to 9-in) would be more popular than 9.7-in or 10.1-in devices. The press release has more details, including a graphic that shows the dramatic rise of the smaller tablets.

The bottom line is that the vendors have spent the past few years fiddling with the size and nature of devices. This is a moving target that changes as the use-cases of the devices shift. At this point, it seems, the small tablet-size devices are ascendant.

The complex world of telecommunications and IT has shifted the metrics and measures of end-user experiences. ABI Research released a study on Customer Experience Management (CEM). Though it seems like a fuzzy concept, ABI says it increasingly is being used for mobile networks. Essentially, CEM seems to be new ways of posing the question forever associated with the recently deceased Ed Koch who, as mayor of New York City, asked everyone with whom he came in contact: “How’m I doin’?”

ABI suggests that mobile CEM cuts across many domains and will be a $1.3 billion business. It seems very similar to the shift in video from measurement of quality of service to quality of experience (QoS to QoE). Essentially, QoS is measures of various technical metrics such as dropped packets, delay, jitter, latency and others. If these metrics are within certain parameters, the QoS is achieved. However, there could be other issues that keep adequate audio and/or video from being delivered. Thus, a measure of what end users actually see and hear, the quality of their experience, is gaining favor. The links between CEM and QoE seem deep.

Smartphones and Society

And, finally, it seems that one of the people most responsible for the explosion in telecommunications during the past decade suddenly thinks that it all, or the mobile aspect of it, at least, isn’t such a good idea. Or something like that.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin commented at the TED Conference that smartphones hurt male social abilities:

"Is this the way you're meant to interact with other people?" he asked, according to the TED blog, adding, "It's kind of emasculating. Is this what you're meant to do with your body?"

There are several points to be made here. The first is that Brin may just have been thinking out loud, or made a bigger point badly. There are other possibilities, but it doesn’t do anyone any good to go into them here.

The other point is that anything he says outside of discussing telecommunications, consumer desires and related topics shouldn’t be taken too seriously. That’s no knock on Brin, who obviously is a brilliant guy. It’s a point about our culture: Albert Einstein was a brilliant physicist and Thomas Edison a supreme inventor. Once they became famous, however, reporters and other folks asked their opinions on everything under the sun. It’s odd that we assume people who are brilliant in one area are just as smart in others. It’s not true, and a long way of saying that Brin’s talents are in business and technology. A sociologist he’s not.



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