Wi-Fi Roaming Case Study: AT&T

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AT&T has been a highly enthusiast adopter of Wi-Fi roaming and has garnered great results from its initiative. As a market leader in all things roaming, A&T has developed a Business Model simulator which allows operators members of the WBA to run business model simulations based on a number of roaming variables. Mored details on WiFI roaming can be found in the annual WBA industry report now available.

Drivers

AT&T wanted to address the silent roamers among its customer base while delivering them a seamless experience. At the same time, AT&T needed to optimize cost and revenues associated with Wi-Fi roaming.

Building the Service

AT&T created integrated offers by adding Wi-Fi to its international data offers while building an international Wi-Fi roaming footprint through bilateral, unilateral and aggregator agreements. Now, customers with International Packages, in addition to an allowance of cellular minutes, messages and megabytes, also enjoy seamless access to over 18 million hotspots in 100+ countries. These hotspots include close to a million venue-based hotspots (airports, hotels, cafés, etc) and over 16 million “homespots”. The company also includes, in the Wi-Fi Finder portion of the AT&T Global Wi-Fi app, the location of 1.5 million public hotspots; and it has 60+ roaming agreements. Most of the roaming agreements are international although some are domestic too. AT&T found a technology partner to build a Wi-Fi client to provide seamless connections using cellular credentials.

AT&T’s International Data Plans:

Results

The results have been very positive according to AT&T, which claims soaring usage in terms of the number of roamers, roaming data consumption (including cellular) and retention rate. As long as the cost of Wi-Fi wholesale remains lower than cellular data (25-50% lower), the model works and AT&T plans to expand its footprint, as well as the adoption of Passpoint profiles into client devices, especially on iOS. AT&T has its own application to discover and authenticate into partner Wi-Fi networks.

AT&T Wi-Fi Roaming Growth:

MNOs are no longer interested in paying voice service per minute or data per Mb because:

  • VoLTE will soon replace traditional voice and will be included in data packages
  • MNOs require better support to offer more attractive roaming packages including unlimited data offers with more flexible retail offers

Establishing a roaming agreement is still a long process resulting in Wi-Fi roaming revenue not yet achieving its full potential. The reasons are many: identifying a potential partner who is not an active member of the WBA can be tricky in the first place; ensuring the potential partner abides by the requirements needed to establish a successful bilateral agreement requires also a great of work and time. There are the technical, business, financial and legal steps that must be overcome, and in turn a clear view of the potential return on investment of all the total investment in time.

The WBA has made it easier to negotiate and implement those roaming deals between WBA members by setting the specific guidelines detailed in the WRIX standard which also handles the technical aspects of roaming. As a reminder, WRIX includes WRIX-i (Interconnect), WRIX-l (Location) WRIX-d (Data Clearing) and WRIX-f (Financial Settlement). Each of these can be deployed by Visited Network Providers (VNPs) and Home Service Providers (HSPs) either in-house or through an intermediary WRIX service provider. However, for roaming agreements between WBA members and non-members, challenges remain.

Syniverse (with the help of Bandwidth X) are working on facilitating that marketplace exchange. BandwidthX is the company which has pioneered a cloud-based B2B marketplace to match service providers with available Wi-Fi capacity on an on-demand, pay-per-use basis while Syniverse is involved in international Wi-Fi roaming deployments.

The initiative is designed to encourage cities, government bodies, fixed and mobile operators, vendors, web platforms and service providers, as well as retailers, to support a universal connectivity model. Service providers are increasingly combining Wi-Fi and cellular in roaming packages, and by joining the BandwidthX trading platform with Syniverse’s IP roaming hub, this presents a genuinely viable alternative to carriers’ own offerings. Among its offerings, Syniverse has Wi-Fi Roaming eXchange, which aims to make “mobile Wi-Fi roaming as seamless as 3G/4G data roaming.”

However those models may be replaced by more distributed methods enabled by blockchain to enable smart contracts. Read my blog bringing blockchain to telecom.

 

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).

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