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Monday, July 26, 2010

Vendor-managed offload?

I've just seen my first "live" WiFi SSID from an Android device used as a tether - it came up in my local cafe as AndroidAP.

However, it's made me wonder if there is mileage for an Android offload service (run by Google), rather than a tether, which is essentially the opposite.

It is already well-understood that perhaps the most difficult part of WiFi offload is the on-device client and connection management experience, especially given the heterogenous nature of WiFi APs, between home, hotspot and work domains. There's a minefield of user interface, behavioural issues (eg switching off WiFi), log-on screens and so forth.

Joining the dots with some of Google's WiFi efforts that I see in places such as US airports, it made me wonder whether it might be in the interests of Google, Nokia, Apple and others to start knitting together their own grids of WiFi offload partnerships.

Apple and others already make it easy to connect to home WiFi on smartphones - and, generally, it is a better experience for most data applications than relying on 3G, as long as the fixed broadband connection is robust. It also generally means that traffic goes directly to the Internet, rather than being routed via the operator's core.

As a thought experiment, consider this:

A hotel has a WiFi network run by a company such as Swisscom or BT Openzone. As well as the normal SSID, it is also set up with dedicated Android, Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry SSIDs (and, perhaps, Samsung, Acer, Huawei, HTC or others).

The hotspot operator can work on various business models with these vendors - for example revenue-share of adverts viewed onsite, or music and apps downloaded.

The devices come with clients that do auto-logon or simplified log-on (free, or even charged to your iTunes account). The user is happy to have a fast connection that doesn't count against the data cap (or worse, data roaming).

Their host operator has a more mixed view - they get the benefits of offload, but are disintermediated, unless they happen to own or partner the hotspot network themselves.They lose out on possible overage charges, but protect their macro network investment. They also likely get better coverage in indoor locations, improving customer satisfaction.

We already see Skype cutting a deal with WiFi providers (Skype Access). How much more sense to see Android Access as well?

[Actually, I've just remembered, the first(?) device vendor to push this type of model was actually Nintendo]

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