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Consumers shun High Street businesses that don't offer free wi-fi

Friday, December 5th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

People are increasingly looking for "wi-fi first" when it comes to connectivity, according to a body that works to drive the next generation of wi-fi.

Ton Brand, a senior marketing director at the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), said that this is often the case even if consumers have a mobile data subscription.

The WBA, whose members include BT, Microsoft and Huawei, aims to secure an outstanding user experience through the global deployment of next generation wi-fi.

Mr Brand's comments come as the alliance announced the findings of its annual report on the wi-fi hotspot market compiled by global research company Maravedis-Rethink.

Findings of the survey, which had a total of 210 respondents including operators, consultants and wi-fi equipment and device vendors, revealed a growth in confidence in investment in public wi-fi, as well as a rise in operators using wi-fi roaming to extend coverage.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, Mr Brand said: "The user first goes to wi-fi and if there's no wi-fi coverage or insufficient wi-fi coverage he'll go then to his mobile data package.

"So the mobile data package is something that he kind of sits on and refers to as, 'this is great, but this is on the go'.

"If I'm in Starbucks I'll use wi-fi. Why do I need to use my mobile data package, which is probably much more expensive as well?

"So the mindset of the user has now changed significantly from trying to get connectivity whenever, wherever, into, 'I want wi-fi first, and if I can't get wi-fi I'll go to something else'."

Mr Brand said this change is reflected in efforts by operators to provide "wi-fi first" systems, such as operators in the US who had set up voice calling systems using wi-fi, only reverting to a mobile data network if that was not possible.

He said a few years ago, discussing voice over wi-fi with a mobile operator would have got you "lynched on the spot", but now some operators were actually looking at launching it.

Mr Brand said the survey, which was carried out during the third quarter of 2014, also suggested that users are starting to understand the differences in security between general public wi-fi and carrier wi-fi.

He said: "Carrier wi-fi kind of automatically implies that there is a secure mechanism to jump onto the network and authenticate onto the network.

"I think there's much more understanding from the user that there is a difference between secure access and just giving away your email address in the best case, or giving away credit card details in the worst case.

"I think people are coming to understand that giving your credit card is probably not the best idea in the world."

In response, an O2 spokesperson told us: "Our customers are able to choose how they stay connected – using mobile data when they need to or wi-fi if it’s more convenient.

"I can let you know that our customers use up to double the amount of data on our 4G network in comparison to our 3G network, which demonstrates their ever growing appetite for mobile data services.

"In fact, over the last 12 months, our customers have used a total of 5,400 terabytes of 4G data – that’s the equivalent of eight million hours of HD video."

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