How dumb is Wi-Fi Offload?

With an increasing number of mobile data users – liking, poking, tagging, tweeting, following, outlooking, netflicking (you get my point, the list goes on...) mobile operators are making plans on how to effectively reduce the strain on their networks to give their customer’s a better overall experience. And the perfect example of this is Wi-Fi Offload.

Most networks describe Wi-Fi Offload as ‘taking the high levels of traffic off their network and giving the customer an overall better experience.’ But are customers really getting a better experience with Wi-Fi Offload?

Wi-Fi-Offload is a beneficial way for operators to reduce capital expenditure on cellular infrastructure as mobile data growth increases and should have ‘top priority’ status on their list. However, there is a lot of UNCERTAINTY in the Mobile Operators around the customer experience of offloaded users. There are ways to remove this uncertainty.

A range of Wi-Fi Offload solutions are available today, from simple capabilities alerting the user to the existence of available Wi-Fi hotspots to more sophisticated solutions which offer transparent offload from 3G/4G to Wi-Fi with no service interruption and seamless authentication of your credentials. Many mobile operators are favouring a more sophisticated Wi-Fi Offload service. While more complex to implement, sophisticated Wi-Fi offload provides the mobile operator with configurable policies to determine how and when their customers are offloaded to Wi-Fi. Offload policies based on time of day, location, user type, device type and application in use are all available.

While there is value in such a range of configurable offload policies, a fundamental underlying principle is entrenched; that at the time of Offload, the user is better served by a move to Wi-Fi than on their current 3G/4G connection. Today, most offload solutions simply use the radio signal strength of the Wi-Fi network as the indicator that the Wi-Fi hotspot is ready to deliver a better service to the user than their current mobile service.

Wi-Fi Radio Signal Strength is not a sufficient method to determine if a Wi-Fi hotspot is ready to receive an important user’s data traffic.

To ensure Wi-Fi Offload doesn’t become a user dissatisfier, the next generation of Wi-Fi Offload solutions must intelligently determine if the broadband performance currently available on the target Wi-Fi hotspot is sufficient to meet the user’s needs, and be ready to move the customer back to 3G/4G where the network has the capacity and performance to deliver the better user experience. This intelligent offload requires real-time understanding of the actual performance available to the user on both Wi-Fi and 3G/4G.

Currently, most mobile operators don’t know if the service from the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot is better than the experience you are receiving from your 3G/4G connection.

  • They don’t know the difference in broadband performance (data speeds, latency, jitter) for users before / after they are offloaded
  • They don’t know how soon after offload users close their Broadband sessions
  • They don’t know from which cell locations users are being offloaded to WiFi
  • They don’t know which services and content are used when a customer is offloaded to WiFi
  • They don’t know how offloaded data volumes and performance vary by time and day

Starting to see a pattern? Today, actual WiFi performance experienced by users (and to a lesser extent, Wi-Fi usage) is a blind-spot for most of the mobile operators who employ Wi-Fi Offload.

Almost all readers of this blog will have a ‘relationship’ with a mobile phone operator and if that is correct, then I can certainly guarantee that in one point in this ‘relationship’ – you have wanted to divorce them, rip up the contract and never want to hear their name again. So why would operators want to give you another opportunity to complain?

Especially when the solution is so simple.

The Ciqual solution provides the Mobile Operator with a 360o view of the customer who will increasingly be off the mobile network, offloaded to Wi-Fi, roaming abroad or on Wi-Fi at home or the office. The Ciqual on-device measurement solution provides constant visibility of the performance experienced by the mobile user, with real-time feedback to ensure Wi-Fi Offload solution in use intelligently chooses the network which will deliver the best data experience to the user.

In summary, when employing Wi-Fi Offload, the mobile operator must strike a balance between cost reduction and customer experience; offloading to Wi-Fi because it’s cheaper versus choosing the best network to maximise the user experience.

Right now, the balance is swung significantly towards offload for cost reduction purposes. Is this the right balance? And, if not, how long will users allow this to continue?

How dumb is Wi-Fi Offload? Well, right now, it is definitely not configured to deliver the best user experience. Let’s make Wi-Fi Offload smarter by ensuring the customer experience is central to offload policies.

To discuss how Ciqual can smarten your Wi-Fi Offload, get in contact at info@ciqual.com