WiFi offloading – is it a solution for crowded networks?

WiFi Offloading starts spreading

WiFi-Offloading Summit 2014 - Photo: Google
WiFi-Offloading Summit 2014 – Photo: Google

As we all know mobile data traffic is exponentially growing and the bigger the screen ofour smartphones get, the more tempted we are to use them for video and audio streaming.  This naturally forces operators to constantly add new bandwidth (it seems they mostly have Youtube to thank for that:)) in order to keep us happy.

One of the solutions they are looking into is WiFi offloading – developing a network of WiFi hotspots which are much more cheaper to build compared to mobile networks. So, operators started to partnership with cafes and restaurants to provide free WiFi service to customers that have contracts with them. This doesn’t work without inherent challenges, both technical and commercial ones.

Challenges in the way of WiFi offloading

First of all you cannot expect your customers to keep alert for hotspots and manually connect when one is available. So a solution was turning to crowdsourcing and creating apps that quietly look for Wi-Fi networks. When an open network is found its’ location is communicated to a central database and other users can benefit from the information and have their smartphone to automatically join listed networks. This has fair chances of working, except for very crowded public locations like metro stations or airports where we still face significant bandwidth problems and a pretty bad user experience.

A second problem, with more serious implications, is the security of the public networks. We have wrote about the dangers of free WiFi in the past and the fact that information flowing within open WiFi networks can be easily monitored still remains true.  A mobile network is much more difficult to monitor and intercept. With WiFi offloading that seamlessly moves a user onto an open WiFi network, a telecom operator is potentially exposing their customer without their knowledge or consent.   In the best scenario this can simply compromise the relationship the operator has with their customer. At worst it can turn into a serious security threat that might end with theft of important personal information, access to email and bank accounts.

 We’d like to hear from you! What do you think about WiFi offloading? Would you use it?

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